As a Black person born in the late 50’s, I was subjected to the negative images presented on screen by Film and Television. Stories and, in particular, stories told with images are powerful tools. Stories can impact not only the communities they represent, but the government and society as a whole. Since the invention of Television and Film, producers have perpetuated harmful narratives to the Black, Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern and Latinx communities. Showing us as savages, illiterate, over sexed, untrustworthy, criminals, lazy, lacking in moral values. Only through empowering racialized storytellers and executives can we start to erase the damage and correct.
I was considered fortunate. While still in high school in 1976, I started my career as an actress. On sets, I was often the only person of colour in front of or behind the cameras. That absence was a constant reminder to me of how devalued my community was. The audience the industry was focused on was not a racially diverse audience. It was the ‘White’ audience who were hailed as the ultimate goal.
In 1987, I was informed that I was booking all the “available” jobs in Canada. I was told how fortunate I was even though I could barely make a living. So I relocated to Los Angeles and immediately found the success I sought. For the next twenty years I starred on a show called The Young and The Restless. Throughout my time on the show, I was always cognizant of the continued lack of access racially diverse talent had back in Canada.
In 2000 I launched an initiative in Toronto that was new and bold - Reelworld Film Festival. A year later, Reelworld Foundation (now called Reelworld Screen Institute) followed. These initiatives had one single focus - to literally change the face of the industry. Reelworld became a training ground for curators/programmers, arts administrators, grants writers, theatre managers, publicists and more. Giving opportunity to filmmakers was just part of our mission. We wanted to make sure that everything we did would impact racially diverse professionals on every level of this industry.
As we are today, Reelworld was an advocate for change on the government level. Through discussions with Telefilm Canada, Canadian Media Fund, Ontario Creates, Canada Council for the Arts and others, we helped bring much needed attention and understanding to the needs of the diverse media artists we were supporting. This gave more insight to those who had the power to create much needed inclusion and access.
In 2018, Reelworld was asked to speak at the Senate committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, "Impact and Utilization of culture and arts in Foreign Policy and Diplomacy" about the importance of showing the world our diverse artists and their stories. We illustrated how more help was needed to open up the concepts of what is considered “Canadian content”.
Reelworld sat with broadcasters and shared the challenges and issues our talent had, and helped with changes to their policies in hiring practices behind the cameras.
We worked with community centres and created youth workshops to give youth more exposure to different facets of the screen industry and the lucrative opportunities it might provide them.
Reelworld sat with the unions, from ACTRA, WGC, DGC, Iatse, Nabet and affiliates such as ACCT, CMPA and others. We are always pushing for more inclusion for our diverse talent and always pushing to pull down the barriers that hinder access.
Reelworld continues to be that voice and a strong arm pushing for change. Our new initiative, Access Reelworld is a national database and job board for Canadian racially diverse creators and industry professionals. We hope this will once and for all stop the question 'where can we find that diverse talent".
We continue our fight. Our twenty years of work have allowed us to build strong relationships with every inch of this industry. With our power, we push for the change our members tell us they need.