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Equity advocate says that replacing white men with white women won’t address white supremacy in screen industry

Brands&People photo
Black and racialized filmmakers have been shortchanged by organizations funded by the federal government, according to the Racial Equity Screen Office. Photo by Brands & People.

The Racial Equity Screen Office has criticized the appointment of Suzanne Guèvremont as the new government film commissioner and chairperson of the National Film Board.

The veteran Montreal-based digital-media executive and educator succeeds Claude Joli-Coeur, whose term ended on November 25.

RESO board chair Barbara Lee told Pancouver that the Guèvremont appointment means that all four major federally funded screen-industry institutions—the National Film Board, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada Media Fund, and Telfilm Canada—are now led by white women.

“Replacing white men with white women is not addressing white supremacy in the Canadian screen industry and does nothing for racial equity,” Lee declared. “Leaders of publicly funded organizations need to reflect the Black, Indigenous and racialized communities that make up this country and contribute tax dollars to these institutions.

“The message behind this latest appointment is that there is no one from the Black, Indigenous and racialized communities who are competent enough to lead a major publicly funded organization in the screen industry,” Lee continued.

She maintained Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is “failing to fulfill his mandate from the PMO office to make racial equity a priority.”

The president and CEO of the Canada Media Fund is Valerie Creighton.

The CEO of the CBC is Catherine Tait. Michael Goldbloom, a lawyer and former publisher of the Montreal Gazette and Toronto Star, chairs the CBC board.

In September, the Telefilm Canada board appointed one of its executives, Francesca Accinelli, as interim executive director. Longtime Montreal arts administrator Robert Spickler chairs the Telefilm Canada board.

Valerie Creighton (CMF), Catherine Tait (CBC), Suzanne Guèvremont (NFB), and Francesca Accinelli (Telefilm)
Clockwise from top left: Valerie Creighton (CMF), Catherine Tait (CBC), Suzanne Guèvremont (NFB), and Francesca Accinelli (Telefilm).

RESO report demands equity

Meanwhile, RESO executive director Nilesh Patel told Pancouver that he hopes the federal government will rethink its process of appointments.

Moreover, he urged the new NFB commissioner to stand behind her predecessor’s commitment to racial-equity targets.

According to Patel, this could be accomplished by immediately by committing 50 percent of funding to Black and racialized filmmakers for her term.

Patel added that any targets below 50 percent “will not be significant enough to repair historical harms and accelerate careers decimated by systemic racism…built into the structures of these organizations”.

Earlier this year, RESO and the Vancouver Asian Film Festival conducted a racial-equity audit of NFB productions from 2012 to 2021.

While the report applauded the NFB for setting gender-equity targets, it criticized the national agency for failing to make similar commitments to Black and racialized filmmakers and producers.

“Black and racialized stories have been historically underrepresented with minimal improvements in recent years,” the report stated. “The NFB has not accurately reflected what a Canadian story is historically or presently and will unlikely meet Canada’s dramatically changing demographics in the next 20 years or more, unless some specifically targeted measures are implemented immediately.”

The racial-equity audit reported that in five of the 10 years surveyed, Black directors only had either one or no film produced by the NFB. In total, 71.75 percent of the funded films had white directors.

That compared to 12.7 percent with Indigenous directors, 8.11 percent with Asian directors, 4.04 percent with “additional racialized” directors, and 3.4 percent with Black directors.

RESO VAFF report cover
The RESO and VAFF report exposed a double standard with NFB targets.

Ex-film commissioner responds

“The current NFB commissioner has set no targets for Black and racialized creatives,” the report stated, “which may have been a major factor as to why the percentage of NFB films produced with an Asian Canadian director over the 10 years was under 9% during his tenure, substantially below the flawed benchmark of the Canadian census.”

On his final day on November 23, Joli-Couer responded to the concerns.

He announced that starting in the next fiscal year, the NFB will “implement a respectful and confidential data-collection mechanism”. He added that this will be “accompanied by specific targets and goals with respect to racial equity”.

His statement did not offer any numbers or percentages.

On the same day that the NFB announced racial-equity targets, Telefilm Canada released its 2022-2024 Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Action Plan. It offered concrete numbers.

Telefilm offers more specifics

Telefilm Canada pledges to increase “access to programs for underrepresented groups by lifting barriers to access in program guidelines and processes, as well as guidance on how to access funding”.

This includes committing over the next 18 months to “aim to finance a minimum” of 15 projects in the entire development program, in which at least 50 percent of the producers are Black.

It also states that it will “aim to finance” a minimum of 15 projects in the general stream of the development program in which at least 50 percent of the writers are Black or Persons of Colour.

In addition, Telefilm Canada will aim to finance a minimum of 10 projects in the general stream in which at least 50 percent of the producers are Black or Persons of Colour.

The agency created targets in other areas. For example, in the production program, Telefilm Canada will aim for 16 supported projects over 18 months in which at least one key creative position (director, screenwriter, or producer) is held by people who are Black or Persons of Colour.

In addition, Telefilm will allocate $4 million annually for Indigenous projects through the Indigenous stream in the development, production, talent to watch, and theatrical documentary programs.

“Telefilm will aim to financially support a minimum of 25 festivals that focus on diversity and inclusivity,” its action plan states.

Moreover, the funding body pledges to finance “new and existing training, mentorship, and community development initiatives to strengthen equity-seeking groups and support underrepresented filmmakers”. Telefilm Canada maintained that it will also strengthen “diversity composition” across all advisory committees.

Michelle van Beusekom
In early 2023, the Knowledge Network revealed that it will be headed by Michelle van Beusekom.

Update

On January 6, 2023, the B.C. government-owned Knowledge Network announced the appointment of Michelle van Beusekom as its new president and CEO. She previously held senior leadership positions at the National Film Board, the Documentary Organization of Canada and Uvagut TV (Canada’s first national broadcaster in an Indigenous language) as well as managerial positions at WTN and the CBC, according to a Knowledge news release.

Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.