Concordia Film Festival: Getting there: parity & diversity in the film industry

by Dion Smith-Dokkie

Concordia Film Festival: Getting there: parity & diversity in the film industry

by Dion Smith-Dokkie
May 29, 2017

As part of my work I was able to attend a panel discussion at the Concordia Film Festival called “Getting there: parity & diversity in the film industry.” The event featured four panelists, Henri Pardo, actor and creator of Black Wealth Matters; Li Li, actress and council member of Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA); Karina Aktouf, actress with 15 years experience in the field; and Tracey Deer, writer, director and creator of the series Mohawk Girls.

The four panelists touched on myriad topics that affected them. All stressed that there are multiple conversations taking place in front of and behind the camera; Deer discussed the importance of producers, who often gate keep the path to shows being made. Many current gatekeepers operate along a different set of values than many young, racialized creators, in that they value content that does not challenge the viewer or expose them to authentically sovereign self-expression, instead upholding a number of expectations (misogyny, racism, colonialism) that in turn create caricatures of real people. Underlying this point is the responsiveness of studios to financial considerations and further to this, a reason why diversity is at times seen as a threat to profit, even though, as Li Li noted, franchises like Fast and the Furious prove otherwise.

All of the panelists spoke to the weight of limited representation, and ways in which the systems that enable the production of film, television, and related media limit representational diversity in their design. Aktouf discussed her rising demand in front of the camera due to the changing political climate of Quebec; though this is exciting in terms of growing representation and deeper dialogue, she also discussed her experience of having been asked to play characters of different communities. Specifically, Aktouf referenced her lived experience as a woman with a specific and personal context and history, which informs the language she speaks, her accent, her body language; in this way, she discussed the political implications of lived experience, performance, and performativity while playing characters and people whose context is different from one’s own. Furthermore, Aktouf has found that, though there are more parts for her over the past few years, many of these parts have little or no dialogue, leaving her silent, silenced, or muted.

There is a parallel relationship to Li Li’s discussion of accent neutralization in acting and the double-bind that allophone, racialized actors are placed in, whereby there is a requirement to speak English/French without an accent and also the requirement whereby actors must be able to emulate other people’s’ accents. She identified this as a tool through which racial exclusion occurs. Similarly, Li notes that in her experience, racialized actors often play roles that, though said to be representative of their own community, are in reality the fantasies of a show maker. This process through which actors are made to play out the projections of others reveals the power that media productions have to affect the way people are viewed by others and even by themselves. More deeply, it represents a dynamic of control insofar as behaviour and reality of others are altered to match the projections of those who create representations.

What happens behind the camera affects the material that it produces and with these realities in mind, Pardo, Li and Deer all note the importance of owning the content and means of production. Bodies like the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) were identified as ideal models, as they require Indigenous participation in all aspects of production and subject matter and thus ensure diversity in production and representation. Through this process, these organizations contribute to another important factor identified by the panelists, the need to create a new generation of show makers whose education and motivations are humanitarian and open to questions of sovereignty in self-representation. The panel identified the need for diverse writers as well, which would, in general, add to the authenticity and three-dimensionality of scripts.

Discussing his series, Black Wealth Matters, Pardo brought up the possibility of self-publishing, using platforms such as YouTube, as an option for moving forward and working around the structural inequalities present in mainstream media. Obviously, this point parallels the work of AbTeC in many ways. Similar to Pardo, who seeks to create dialogue between creators, facilitators, and consumers, AbTeC works to empower Indigenous peoples on online platforms and create Indigenously-determined online Indigenous spaces. Though the comparison may seem cumbersome given the differences in media and interaction with technology, I feel it’s important to consider if only to demonstrate the ways in which different people from diverse communities can resist power inequities together, which, in the end, represents co-implicated communities. Pardo reminded actors and showmakers of their responsibility to care for and cultivate their audience. In this way, actors and creators have a responsibility to empower their audiences through the creation of media that works against dehumanizing projections and caricaturization.

In closing, there was much material for consideration at the panel. The four panelists brought a surfeit of experience and analysis to a network of topics having to do with media, structural oppression, representation, and sovereignty.