Black Content Creators Talk Canadian TV Industry Support, Contraction: “There’s Challenges”

Black Canadian content creators attending the inaugural Black Screen Office Symposium in Toronto on Tuesday showed both excitement and anxiety as the global entertainment business model faces unprecedented disruption.

Just as an industry reckoning after the murder of George Floyd led to more Black representation among Canadian industry gatekeepers and more direct federal government investment in Black creators, the impact of Hollywood shooting fewer originals and locally commissioned series in Canada, and with lower production budgets, is rippling across the business.

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The impact on local broadcasters shrinking their local content slates as Canadians increasingly shift to streaming platforms and away from traditional cable TV subscriptions also plays a part as a weak advertising market undercuts overall linear TV revenues and artificial intelligence poses an existential threat everywhere.

“Because our industry is in a state of contraction, there’s challenges,” Floyd Kane, president of Freddie Films and the creator of the CBC and Fox legal drama Diggstown, told The Hollywood Reporter. Kane said the importance of the first-ever industry gathering of Black Canadian creators at the BSO Symposium has allowed many to find their voices among a growing community of like-minded local players just as they look to break into a global and digital entertainment market.

“Now, I can go anywhere. The borders are down. That’s the great thing about the future. Right now, it all feels possible,” he insisted. But Francesca Accinelli, senior vp of program strategy and industry development at Telefilm Canada, a key financier of Black Canadian filmmakers, told THR a pervading sense that the “floor is about to fall out from beneath their feet” is inevitably felt among BSO Symposium attendees.

“There’s nothing more discouraging than to hear that’s what people feel,” Accinelli insisted. To offset that impact, Telefilm and other key Canadian industry funders are coordinating programs to ensure long-term sustainability for Black Canadian writers, showrunners, directors and producers who, for too long, were unable to make a decent living in Canada and had to go south to the U.S. for opportunities.

For starters, Telefilm and production funders have established specific financing streams for Black Canadians and other people of color. Telefilm is looking to put to use the country’s varied and long-standing co-production treaties with international filmmakers to encourage collaboration with Black Canadian creators.

Additionally, the Black Screen Office led a delegation to South Africa to encourage more Canada-South Africa co-productions and also to the U.K. “That’s our strong point. Anyone in Canada to get those bigger budgets has to partner with the world. And the world is looking to partner with Canada,” Accinelli said of the Canadian industry’s increased focus on exporting content to the world.

That’s a change from earlier generations that worried the best Canadian talent would go elsewhere, especially to Hollywood. Not anymore. “We’re better for the Denis Villeneuves, people that have gone into the world, done all these great things and bring it all back. There’s so much we can do partnering with treaty countries,” Accinelli added.

Vinessa Antoine stars in the legal drama 'Diggstown.'
Vinessa Antoine stars in the CBC/Fox legal drama ‘Diggstown’

Lea Marin, director of development, drama, and scripted content at the CBC, told THR she wears two hats when backing homegrown TV series at the country’s public broadcaster. “I racially identify as Black but also work in this industry. So, I’m listening to people with both hats on. I’m listening to how people feel about how things are working in the industry, so I can take that back to my colleagues,” Marin explained.

But she also collaborates with Black Canadian creators who promised financing specifically for their projects and not just for people of color as a whole, after the Canadian federal government launched a drive toward greater diversity and inclusion on film and TV screens.

“I’m also listening with compassion and understanding how difficult it still is for creators. It resonates for me, but I also work for a broadcaster with a mandate to do this for all (creators). This is specific to the Black experience, but it transcends and translates across the board,” Marin said of addressing a need for financing and support for projects by a range of under-represented communities countrywide.

At the same time, Marin welcomes no longer being the only Black decision-maker in the room at the CBC or elsewhere in the industry. “It isn’t about me being the only one in that room, to speak up or voice dissent, if there is any. It’s about the other members of the team who not only look different but are different than me,” she argued. “That’s become really important.”

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