So recently I went to a Canadian short film line up at a famous Canadian festival. The films were hit or miss, some were fantastic, others were questionable, however I have yet to attend any festival where every short film in a lineup is a home-run. But I digress. What concerns me, or rather made me spit fire was the fact that there were only two people of color, (ok three if you count the Spanish dude having sex) on screen that evening. And all of these people of color were minor characters, in probably a total of twenty characters that graced the screen that night.
One particular film starred Sarah Gadon, whose face is recognizable from many films but most recently from Sarah Polly’s series ‘Alias Grace’. Sarah is arguably one of the best young Canadian actresses around and very deserving of the roles she has been crafting over the years. But it reminded me of an article I read recently where the writer explained how actors of color are only now being given the chance to carry films as leads, and as a result, it is unfair to weigh their performances as equally as someone who has been manicured to be a ‘lead’ their entire lives.
You see, in the same lineup was a film which follows two little girls who compete in their attempt at saving the life of a wounded bunny. Both lead girls were white - in an all white cast of five. Did these two girls do a good job in the film? Sure. They were fine. But it goes to show that from an early age, we cast white children to play lead roles. They are groomed to become the next Sarah Gadon. Could one of the characters in this short film have been a young girl of visible ethnicity without compromising the story? Yes.
And it made me question why this line up of films was considered ‘Canadian’? The Canada I know and have lived in my entire life looks very different then what was presented on screen that night.
Having spent time working in both the America and Canada, this illustration of Canadian filmmaking is unsettling. As Canadians we pat ourselves on the back for being open minded and inclusive and in many ways we are. But in America, despite the laundry list of social problems, there is space for people to say - Me Too. Let’s be honest, America is a racist, misogynistic country — but it’s a country where the loudest wins. And where media is realizing the need for inclusion in their stories, the need to melt the pot a little bit more.
But I don’t see this taking place in Canada. The Canada represented on television and in film, particularly in film, seems to be a place where the white person’s (usually the white man’s) story is told. So much so that we don’t even question the very fact that there are no people of color on screen in a Canadian short film lineup. There are great steps being taken for Indigenous stories being made, but there is an uncomfortable segregation in our story telling culture. Canadian Europids tell theirs, the Quebecois tell theirs, more and more Indigenous people are telling theirs and every so often we get a sprinkling of films by and about other races. But no one mixes. In many ways our filmmaking and story telling mentality is far more out of touch than our country’s political and social perspectives. Or is it? Perhaps our story telling is shining a light on a real truth that most Canadians are too polite to express outwardly.
In my mind, the only solution is nurturing more visible minorities behind the scenes, who make and finance content. Hopefully in another decade or two we won’t be applauding ourselves for another beautiful movie about indigenous people that is the buzz of the festival circuit. Because by that point it will be a non-issue. The norm will be the myriad of color we see on screen, not supporting the white man’s story, but rather coming together to tell the human story.
I think the goal should be that we all turn beige.