Toronto: Black Canadian Creators Launch Film Development Fund Amid Industry Reckoning

Book of Negroes - H 2015
Courtesy of BET

The Canadian Independent Screen Fund will develop and produce content by an inclusive group of emerging creators.

With the Canadian film and TV industry at a crossroads amid the Black Lives Matters movement, the newly opened Black Screen Office and other industry groups have come together to launch the Canadian Independent Screen Fund for underrepresented content creators.

CISF co-chair Lalita Krishna told The Hollywood Reporter the new film fund represented a call to action for a Canadian industry needing to open doors for emerging Black creators long denied soft money for their film and TV projects.

Krishna said the acute need for film financing directed specifically at diverse creators emerged during the novel coronavirus pandemic, when major industry funders distributed COVID-19 emergency relief funds to Canadian indie producers but underrepresented creators left the table empty-handed.

"When the COVID funds were released, it became apparent who was left out, who was not eligible and that was Black and people of color. A lot of people did not qualify because they likely never had received funding," Krishna argued.

While Canadians have access to a slew of U.S. TV shows from Black creators 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 CISF is backed by other industry groups like BIPOC TV & Film, Racial Equity Media Collective, IMPACT and the Indigenous Screen Office. In July, the Black Screen Office was created as around 75 Black Canadian entertainment professionals, including top producers, actors and directors, signed an open letter to the federal government — a major funder of local film and TV content — demanding an end to "systemically racist policies" that keep many from advancing their careers without heading to Los Angeles.

Amid a widespread racial reckoning, Black Canadian producers and directors have called for committed funding specifically for their projects, and not just for people of color as a whole. Backers of the CSIF are lobbying the federal government in Ottawa to contribute $10 million annually over five years to finance scripted or unscripted projects where Black and people of color creators own at least 60 percent of the IP.

“Filmmakers from BPOC communities have historically faced systemic barriers, which prevent storytellers from getting our projects greenlit by gatekeepers," added Jennifer Holness, fellow co-chair of the CISF board.