Black Media Creators Demand End to "Systemically Racist Policies" in Canadian Entertainment

Hollywood Sign Black and White - H - 2019

"We should not have to move to the U.S. to make a basic living," Black Canadian actors, producers, directors and writers urged in an open letter to the federal government.

Around 75 Black Canadian entertainment professionals, including top producers, actors and directors, have signed an open letter to the federal government in Ottawa — the top investor in local film and TV content — demanding an end to "systemically racist policies" that keep many from advancing their careers without heading to Los Angeles.

The July 13 letter sent to Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who oversees investment in culturally sensitive Canadian film and TV content, was signed by top producers such as Jennifer Holness, Sudz Sutherland, Floyd Kane and Damon D'Oliveira and directors Clement Virgo and Charles Officer.

The open letter argues that, in contrast to Hollywood, which faces its own reckoning amid recent protests over the murders of George Floyde and Breonna Taylor, the Canadian industry has yet to address "unacknowledged anti-Black racism in the Canadian screen-based industries."

While Canadians have access to a slew of U.S. TV shows created by African American showrunners like Scandal, Empire, Dear White People and Black-ish, local TV dramas and movies written by Black Canadians such as the CBC's The Book of Negroes and the Global comedy Da Kink in My Hair are rare.

Among exceptions currently on Canadian TV is the CBC legal drama Diggstown, created by Kane and picked up stateside by BET+. The Black Canadian professionals — including producers Maya Annik Bedward and Joan Jenkinson and Reelworld Film Festival director Tonya Williams — want to see more Black representation among industry gatekeepers and more direct federal government investment in Black creators.

"At every level, systems are in place to under-finance and under-support our projects. We believe this is largely because the systemically racist policies governing our industry leave Black writers, showrunners, directors and producers unable to make a decent living in this country … We should not have to move to the U.S. to make a basic living," the open letter states.

The Canadian federal government launched a drive toward greater diversity and inclusion on film and TV screens after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled changes in its structure and voting regulations to similarly promote diversity.

But the Black Canadian professionals want committed funding specifically for their projects, and not just for people of color as a whole. "Our collective experience has shown that 'the level playing field' is not level," the open letter states, as it argues Canadian funding for inclusion and diversity has gone disproportionately to film and TV projects by women and Indigenous creators.

"We strongly request that the Canadian government invest in Black Canadians in the same way it has addressed gender parity and support for Indigenous screen content. Left unattended, these problems will not correct themselves," the open letter states.

The open letter was also signed by Oscar-nominated director Hubert Davis, Jozi-H producers Amos Adetuyi and Alfons Adetuyi, and Total Recall actor Andrew Moodie.