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Casting Diverse Talent: Racial backgrounds in Ontario. Fact or Fiction?

Welcome to Toronto, North America’s fourth largest city with half the citizens identifying themselves as visible minorities. The city is also one of the biggest film and TV centres globally, exceeding $1 billion in investment by production companies over each of the last three years.

Ontario’s film and TV production industry is a powerhouse now called Hollywood North with of course supporting love from Montreal and Vancouver.  Toronto (in particular) domestic productions are occurring at a faster rate than the growth of foreign service productions. While film and TV production volumes vary from year to year, they tend to recycle. Our beloved Looney significant changes the broadcasting industry overall, as well as in the market for certain genres of production. This of course also brings many productions that are US based on Canadian soil to create the magic everyone sees on TV and film everyday.

You would think this would make a surge of diverse talent being placed within these productions but this tends not to be the case. Toronto is harmonious with diversity yet you probably wouldn’t get that impression watching a lot of Canadian movies and TV series.

[tds-quotesymbol symbol2]Diversity is the buzzword in Hollywood, it has a nice ring to it and “politically correct” but it seems casting diverse talent in one of the world’s most multicultural cities is easier said than done. – Prefered Anonymous.

Visible minority actors have long complained of systemic racism on the part of studios, and it seems Hollywood is starting to listen. New ideas such as Fresh off the boat, Blackish, Jane the Virgin, Cristela and Empire have raised awareness, some may argue more stereotypical than beneficial  but they are finding “new” audiences. New? Or were they there all along?

There is an increased demand for visible minority talent but could there be a lack of awareness by some cultures about these opportunities or is it that they simply can not be casted into anything over simple background work? If the latter is the case who is at fault? The production? Casting directors? Talent agencies? The Talent?

The Colour of Beauty is a shocking short documentary I was made aware of back in 2010 that examines racism in the fashion industry. It simply asked: Is a black model less attractive to designers, casting directors and consumers and if so what is the colour of beauty? It was a very thought provoking piece and was actually part of more films from the Work For All series, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, with the participation of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

From reading their website you will find: “Work for All is a collection of short films and related online resources that address racism in the workplace. Created by filmmakers across Canada, the 11 documentary, drama and animated films dealing with direct and systematic racism tell stories that range from the intensely personal to broader social explorations, all designed to provoke thought and discussion.” So there is an awareness that there is an issue. It would be obvious to see diverse talent in such  films ironically about racism, but surely these talented people have much more to offer. (let’s be honest how many Actors of  South Asian descent you recognize from Canada compared to say European [looking]?) I am sure some will quickly state a name here and there but the question is rhetorical. It is very one sided.


Viola Davis cancels her appearance at the Central California ...

Diverse talent (depending on what culture you speak to) show great concern to promoting true diversity and not tokenism. Viola Davis gave a stirring speech after becoming the first woman of color to win the best actress in a drama series award at the 2015 Emmys. Davis, the star of How to Get Away with Murder, spoke about the difficulties black women have traditionally faced in getting lead roles and put it bluntly: ‘You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there’. This leads us to wonder if the tradition has crossed over to Canadian soil or was it always here.


Randal Park did stand up about topics like this way before his talents was made more publicly known on his show Fresh off the Boat. (Not available to some countries)

But don’t think that Mr. Park is not conscious of what his image does to the culture within the community. Read what he has to say about his role here.

 Constance Wu gives a different angle to how casting wanted to be “politically correct” actually helped her in the beginning. She is very open and we at BGRated believe any actor should watch this inspiring video. Should be part of Masterclass if you ask us.

When it comes to film some do walk around with distorted expectations of one group or the other, believing, quite wrongly, that “these people” are more aggressive; “those people” are more lazy, “this group” is deviant and “these folks over here” are dangerous. This form of thinking does taint the “view” of an actor that would fit this idealism for a role. This panel of stars that shows to the contrary that any talent, it can be hard but if you surpass the hidden restrictions you can be successful.


“This is all fine and dandy”, you think to yourself, “but these are American Actors.” Be it obvious that our point is filmmakers abroad are coming to Canadian soil to produce combined with our own productions we should have a smorgasbord of culture to offer work to, yes these are American Examples. What about Canadians who made it? How many are considered “Diverse”?

Well that is not hard to find. We don’t have to do a top 10 because out of the top 10 only a few are considered “diverse” anyway but there are so many. ACTRA themselves has the CastingDiversity.ca database that lists tons of talent.

We did do some research and saw that the term diverse can also include other characteristics besides culture, sex and race. We do wish there was more Indigenous members. 🙁

So this issue does not seem to stem from lack of awareness or accessibility or the talent themselves for that matter.

What is the real issue? Could it be the casting directors themselves are screening out culture unbenounced to productions?
The Hollywood Reporter gave notice from as far back as 2010 that NBC Universal is looking for diverse talent and they will be cast in Canada. As well, many major productions in Canada do show diversity on some of their shows but it does not seem to translate well on screen.
Some complain that CD (Casting directors) look at star-meters and twitter followers and share the same safe, boring shortlists others think it is hard as it is for “white” actors to get work, so it should be no different for any other race but that couldn’t possibly restrict so many.

Kelly Edwards, the Hollywood-based vice-president of talent development and corporate diversity for NBC Universal, said casting for TV shows and pilots is typically done under a tight deadline. All too often, casting directors and producers rely on talent they already know. And all too often, that means not enough ethnic diversity on screen.

Within the industry, you’ll find lots of filmmakers who will tell you that they believe in pluralism and colour-blind casting, Perhaps the issue is what is considered equal, enough or too much is not clear.

We ask the readers who are part of us: Our culture, our neighbors, our families and our friends. What you believe the issue is if there is any? This is simply to invoke discussion and debate in hopes to well, give more work in the future to more diverse talent and in turn show more diversity on screen to correctly show how the world really looks. Diverse.

 

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