Category Archives: Diversity

Prime Time in Ottawa 2019

For an ‘in the moment’ feel for this year’s Prime Time in Ottawa conference hosted by the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), look up my twitter feed for Jan 29 – Feb 1, 2019 and/or check out the hashtag #PTiO to get other perspectives as well.  I used to Storify my tweets but sadly that’s no longer an option.

I have to say that this was a pretty good conference.  Attendance felt up (I don’t know the actual numbers). The opening cocktail was packed and that means interest from local Ottawa media, politicians and bureaucrats as well as delegates.

I like to pick a theme for the conference after the fact, often an unintended theme that comes out of what people are thinking and talking about, regardless of what is actually programmed.  I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised to declare that this year’s theme was diversity. I need your help sharing my blog post on terminology widely as the misuse of the term diversity as a synonym for people of colour was pretty widespread but more and more people are getting it and talking about what needs to happen, how to improve it and why.  It came up in a variety of panels that technically were not about diversity. The fact that we’re still talking about why is a little depressing but at least more people accept the fact that better reflecting our own audience and reaching a global audience is a pretty good why. Netflix was pretty clear. They target a global audience so need a diversity of stories and storytellers. The panel on working with Netflix therefore veered off at one point to talking about how to improve the diversity of talent in Canadian production with producer Noreen Halpern calling for more training programs and showrunner Dennis Heaton telling the audience it was everyone’s responsibility to mentor emerging talent who aren’t otherwise getting opportunities.

I do object to a call from talent agent Glenn Cockburn (on the Scarcity of Talent panel) for more programs that target kids in high school since I know that many colleges and universities are already graduating pretty diverse classes but everyone who isn’t white and male are having a harder time getting hired.  I tweeted out the story of my daughter who graduated from Centennial’s Broadcasting and Film program, one of a very diverse class, and did her work placement where she was the only non-white face. How can you hire an all white crew in the city of Toronto?? Two of her female non-white friends are DGC trainees and they are getting great support from that union so it’s not all bad news.  I am in the camp of mentoring and financial support to give emerging talent work opportunities. Hold the door open everyone.

Now was the conference itself diverse?  Only if you measure gender balance. Conference producer Marguerite Pigott was pleased to announce that 50% of the speakers were male (I did enjoy the stat being flipped like that).  But by my rough calculation (and this is not scientific as ethnicity and identity are the choice of the speaker, not the person counting) only nine of 56 speakers were people of colour. Yeah, we’ve got some work to do.

The marketing pitch session (Prime Time Throwdown) was a glimpse into that future.  All three projects were pitched by women. One was an LGBTQ team and one was a half-POC team.  Two of the projects are web series that will likely earn good audiences but are the kinds of shows that are unlikely to find a home on traditional broadcast.  Barbelles is targeting ‘queer women 18-34’ and as we have seen with Carmilla that audience segment is very hungry for content. Tokens on Call won the pitch and I’m looking forward to its launch later in the spring as it takes a very funny look at attempts to subvert traditional casting to create more diversity (see that theme again).  In general though, it was an entertaining and informative session as the audience learned about the marketing strategies, and potential pitfalls, from producers who will be undertaking an aspect of marketing themselves.  Two out of the three had received Bell Fund funding for a Discoverability Plan so it was also interesting to see how that new program can impact producers.

What else went on?  The talk of the conference was the opening panel of broadcasters.  Every year Prime Time starts with this panel and it’s usually pretty tame as the broadcasters say the same thing year after year – the CRTC needs to deregulate as life is just so hard, they love producers, the broadcasters have great CanCon (that they’re doing because they love it, not because they have to) etc etc.  Well, not this year (and not just because of a controversial statement from the head of CBC – see here). There was a feisty dispute between Stéphane Cardin of Netflix Canada and Catherine Tait of CBC (which was a little strange since Netflix buys a lot of CBC comedy and dramas) and between Stéphane and Mike Cosentino of Bell Media (which made more sense since Bell is calling for Netflix to make a contribution to Canadian programming of 20% of their annual revenues).  Reynolds Mastin tried to squeeze Terms of Trade into the conversation by calling it Code of Practice – not sure that worked. Stéphane suggested that more people in the room wanted to work with Netflix than would likely admit it and judging by the packed room for the Working With Netflix panel later that morning and the very positive experiences of the panelists, I’d say he’s right.

There were a few panels on the latest info on a topic and they provided up to the minute insights and that was refreshing.  Too often we’re lucky to learn one thing new in a panel but I enjoyed the insights from the Kids panel (don’t think tv first automatically, might be better to build a game first to get their attention), the Distribution panel (distributors are increasingly getting involved at development because of increased competition) and the last minute (due to keynote cancellation – a conference producer’s worst nightmare) Future of Features panel (producers have to use digital platforms and interactivity to find audiences where they are and not leave it to distributors). 

While it is discouraging that we still have to have conversations about the need for diversity and exploiting digital platforms, it did feel like the dial had moved a bit in the right direction so there was cause for optimism.

 

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Imperialism Explained

I was thinking about the British Empire and how, if you were there and you were the viceroy of India, you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India. Or similar, if you were in French Africa, you would think, ‘I’m educating them, I’m bringing their resources to the world, and I’m helping them. There was a time when cultural imperialism was absolutely accepted.” Catherine Tait at Prime Time in Ottawa conference, January 31, 2019

By now most of you have read or heard Catherine Tait’s comment comparing Netflix to imperial Britain and France in their ‘cultural imperialism’.  I was immediately shocked but then surprised that there wasn’t much of a reaction in the room to the comment. Then I saw a growing reaction to it on my twitter feed and then in mainstream media.  It became a topic of conversation in the halls for the rest of Prime Time with some people admitting to having been speechless in shock while others, well, didn’t understand or think it was that bad. So for the benefit of the confused, this why her statement didn’t go over very well for some of us.

Imperialism in India and Africa killed a lot of people.  A lot. Here’s are a few examples. In 1943 approximately 3 million people died in Bengal from famine caused by British imperial policies and exacerbated by British war time policies that prioritized sending relief to Europe over India. From 500,000 to 1 million Algerians were killed or died from famine when France conquered Algeria from 1830s to 1860s. In 1898 the Voulet-Chanoine Mission was mandated to conquer the area now known as Chad to bring it under French control.  They did it by looting, raping, killing and burning entire villages as they marched.

These are just a few examples of the impact of imperialism in India and Africa. I did a bit of googling to make sure that I had the numbers right but it wasn’t hard to find this info.  Many, many books have been written about it. Imperialism’s goal was the economic success of the Empire in question, in disregard of the life and liberty of the local residents. Millions died as a result.  You can’t separate ‘cultural imperialism’ from actual imperialism as the Empires never did. The valuing of the Empire’s culture over that of the local culture was just one of the tools used to subjugate the local population and maintain control.  

So, in my mind, to compare policies that resulted in the deaths of millions to an OTT service that wants to offer Canadians another choice for the delivery of content and to provide Canadian content with a pathway to a global audience trivializes those deaths.  Yes there are (very good) arguments to be made for Netflix to contribute into the system that it participates in and to ensure that it is spending a portion of its money on Canadian production (and not just production in Canada) but is talk like this helpful or disturbing.  For me, it is disturbing.

I write this not to slam Ms. Tait but to try to use this as a teachable moment for anyone in a public position, those who advise those in public positions and well, everyone else who was confused by the reaction.  We can do better.

 

Diversity and Inclusion – Terminology

Lately I’ve been having a lot of talks with organizations and individuals about diversity and inclusion (as a reminder, last year I bolstered my interest in the topic with a certificate in Leadership and Inclusion from Centennial College so I’m having more consultant conversations) and I find that everyone is using different terminology and struggling to get on the same page.  It feels the same as when digital media was evolving and everyone was using different buzzwords (i.e. information superhighway!) until some of the crazier ones dropped off and now it is all pretty much digital media.

So, I thought I would help the conversation by exploring some of these terms.  These are not fixed definitions but more how I have come to understand them or other people have explained them to me.  It might help.

Diversity: First let’s talk about what diversity is not.  It is not synonymous with gender parity or people of colour.  Diversity means a range of perspectives, backgrounds, viewpoints and more. It should include everyone including straight white able-bodied men (also in some circles known as SWAM – there’s an acronym for everything). If you had a team completely made up of people of colour it would not be diverse because there would be no white people on the team.  And if they were all straight and able-bodied it would not be diverse.  In some cases you can have a team that looks diverse but if they all graduated from Ryerson’s RTA School of Media, for example, they would not be diverse.

[I recognize that I set up the Bell Media Diverse Screenwriters Workshop while I was at the WGC but that was before I understood the proper use of the word diverse. Sorry!]

Inclusion: Inclusion is about creating an environment where a diversity of people feel comfortable working.  You can hire a wide range of individuals but if your work environment does not make them feel welcome, they will not stay or they will not work to the best of their ability.  Inclusion is about creating an environment where they can do their best work. If an environment is inclusive, then there is little need to worry about harassment.  Rather than having to find solutions to respond to harassment, the conditions would not occur for it to exist. Inclusion is often harder for organizations than hiring for diversity as this is where they need to change work culture.

Consider this example. In your team meetings do the loudest voices dominate the conversation?  A young Chinese woman once told me that in situations like that she would never say anything as she had been raised to give deference to authority, so the team thought she agreed with everything and had nothing to add.   When she moved to another job where the leadership style was to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to be heard, she was able to contribute. In the second job she felt that she finally was able to do her best work.

Equity:  There is a school of thought that rather than focusing on diversity and inclusion, we should be looking at equity.  Equity refers to ensuring that everyone has what they need to succeed and takes into consideration the fact that some people may need more help to succeed than others.  The goal in equity is ensuring that everyone ends up in the same place – being the best that they can be.  Note that equity is often contrasted with equality, which is treating everyone the same.  You can treat two employees the same but is it fair if one is at a disadvantage.  For example, if one is dyslexic and the other is not, is it fair to give both a written test with a time limit and assess them the same? Equity would be giving the one with dyslexia a longer time limit.

Representation: In media we often talk about representation rather than diversity or inclusion.  Are stories from a variety of people being told? Can everyone see themselves on screen? Are the creators, funders and decision makers representative of the audience that they are trying to reach.  For me, representation is the end goal of diversity and inclusion strategies rather than another way of describing them.

Underserved: When trying to describe communities that are not being represented, people struggle to find an umbrella word. I have heard the word disadvantaged used but that has the connotation that unrepresented people or communities are low income and that is very much not the case. Non-mainstream is used but that assumes a definition of mainstream that we are in the middle of trying to change. Or people just list off a checklist of who they are trying to target: POC, indigenous, LGBTQ, women, disabled, newcomers, etc. Checklists unfortunately are essential if you are trying to measure progress, particularly if you are a government agency or government funded, but inevitably someone feels left out or given intersectionality unable to pick just one box to tick. I like to use the phrase ‘underserved communities’ as an umbrella term. It is easy to understand and doesn’t make judgments about the people in those communities or attempt to define who is in or not in the community.

Intersectionality: In the last definition I used the word intersectionality.  While it has been around for a while it seems to have been one of the buzzwords of 2018 as a lot of people clued in to it for the first time.  Intersectionality is the idea that people are not part of just one community but often multiples, with different experiences based on each one.  For example, a gay person of colour will have a different life experience than a straight person of colour or a white gay person. Inclusion strategies should keep in mind that people are rarely one thing. Any kind of measurement should take into account that people may want to tick off more than one box.

POC: In some circles POC, the acronym for People of Colour, is thought to be synonymous with black or African/Caribbean.  POC is an inclusive term that generally refers to all non-white people including Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, Asian and South Asian. This is a difficult concept for my mother who looks at skin tone and says ‘looks white to me’ (the irony being that my mother thinks of herself as white but her skin tone is brown since she is Anglo-Indian).  POC is about ethnicity and culture and not skin tone. And, as evidenced by my mother, self-identification.

BIPOC/IBPOC: I have seen this acronym spelled both ways but it means the same thing, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.  It is usually an attempt to bring together different communities and reflect or encompass intersectionality.  In Canadian film and tv, BIPOC TV & Film is an example.

Racialized: Racialized or racialization is a term that is being used by some to mean non-white.  It started as a sociology phrase to identify racial groups but has become a replacement for racial minority or visible minority.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission says that race is a social construct to create differences based on people’s characteristics and the process of that social construction is racialization.  I struggle with this word but I understand why organizations would want to use racialized communities rather than visible minorities, particularly when the communities in question are not in the minority.

Privilege: Privilege has become a very loaded word. It should not be.  Privilege at its most basic means rights or advantages based upon being part of a group. There is a great exercise that asks people to stand in a row and then take steps backward and forward depending on whether they have had certain life experiences.  Do they have a post-secondary education? Are they white? Are they female? Do they have a student loan? Are they gay? It is a great visual representation of the different forms of privilege and reminds us all that some aspect of our life is privileged and gives us advantages that other people do not have.  For example, an updated version of the exercise would have to ask: Do you have access to high speed broadband at an affordable price?

So there are ten terms that I find myself dealing with on an almost daily basis.  Have I left anything out?  Do you agree or disagree with any of my explanations?

UPDATE:  At a conference on the weekend a speaker said that my fave word ‘underserved’ should be replaced by ‘excluded’.  It made me think about the two words.  Underserved means that a community is getting some service (i.e. opportunities) but not parity with other communities.  Excluded means that it is or they are completely excluded from any of those opportunities.  It’s not for me (or you) to decide if a community or a member of it feels excluded rather than underserved but I do think that parity is a continuum and not an in or out situation.  For me this is an example of how we need to continually think about the words that we use and check in with the audience to see if we are using words that they are comfortable with.

The Diversity Issue – Are We Doing Enough?

Are we doing enough on diversity in Canadian film, television and digital media?  OK, we all know that the answer is no because you can look around any production office or an industry event and see that it is not reflective of the audience that the industry is trying to entertain. In other industries there are stats that demonstrate that diverse boards or diverse employees result in higher revenues and larger market penetration.  This is likely true for the screen-based industries too but since our purpose is entertainment we have to also ask ourselves how can we reach audiences with our stories when we don’t reflect those audiences?

What is the actual extent of the non-diversity of our Canadian screen-based industries?  That’s hard to say because there are no stats that can answer that question.  There is no agreement even on how to define diversity.  Is it a set of checkboxes pulled from the Employment Equity Act or the broader Charter of Rights or a way of looking at employees and talent to ensure that you are pulling from the largest possible talent pool to get the most creative talent (yeah, I think it’s the latter).

Broadcasters have to track women, visible minorities, disabled and indigenous employees under employment equity legislation and CRTC requirements.  Think about the categories that legislation leaves out though like sexual orientation or identity, marital status, religion, age, country of origin, economic status, neurological differences and more.  There is no requirement by anyone to track the employees at production companies or on sets.  Women in View has published studies of the number of women in key creative positions in film, television and web series but those studies are not a comprehensive look at all job categories nor do they look at other forms of diversity.   Lights, Camera, Access! commissioned a report on employment patterns for people with disabilities in the screen-based industries, but again it was a snapshot of the problem rather than a comprehensive statistical analysis.

If we do not know the full extent of the problem then it will be impossible to measure progress.  In the absence of stats, but recognizing that something has to be done, Telefilm, CMF and others are now factoring gender parity into their evaluation process.  Why are they focused on gender parity rather than full diversity?  My theory is that it is significantly easier to measure the existing gender balance and any improvements and it is easier to put in place measures to improve that balance, than to do the same for any other underserved groups.  One of the greatest obstacles to measuring diversity is the reluctance of marginalized people to self-identify for fear that the identification will be used against them.  With a few exceptions, it is relatively easy to identify gender even if people do not wish to self-identify.

Will a focus on gender parity naturally lead to greater diversity?  I have heard this argument made on more than one occasion and I can’t follow it.  More women means more women.  Even worse, without systemic change it is likely that those additional women will all be white, straight, able-bodied etc. women.

Any systemic change will be more difficult to enact and will take more than a new line on an evaluation form.  We need to ask ourselves how we are recruiting talent, where we are looking, are our job descriptions reflecting bias, do we even understand our own biases.  We need to educate leaders, managers who do the hiring and even funders on what diversity and inclusion means.

In my opinion it is never a bad thing to try to make a difference so I do applaud everyone who is trying, even if it is only to impact the gender balance.  I just ask that we keep working on this problem.  Let’s get the stats we need.  Let’s train more people on diversity and inclusion.  Let’s figure out where to best put our efforts to create long lasting change.  As screenwriter Denis McGrath had been known to say, and put on a button, ‘Best Idea Wins’, but the industry needs to be more inclusive and reflective of our audience if it is going to have the best pool of ideas to pick from.

[At Denis McGrath’s Celebration of Life today, Mark Ellis reminded me that I had promised Denis that I would blog more.  So, after wiping away the tears, I started planning this post.  This is my oh so small effort to ensure that his impact will be long lasting.]

Best Idea Wins button