TORONTO — Amid calls for Telefilm Canada to improve its diversity initiatives, the federal agency has unveiled a new Equity and Representation Action Plan it calls “a first step” toward creating a more inclusive industry.
The new document has seven courses of action and strategies, including the expansion of financing programs to support creators from underrepresented identities.
Telefilm plans to launch new development streams for filmmakers from visible minority communities, and look into initiatives to amplify underrepresented voices.
It also vows to create four new positions for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour employees — two on the project financing team, one in business affairs and one in a senior management role.
Telefilm also pledges that by 2023, a minimum of 50 per cent of its new hires across the Crown corporation will be from underrepresented identities.
It also vows to ensure that 30 per cent of new management hires will be from underrepresented identities for the same timeline.
Those underrepresented identities include Black, Indigenous, and other racialized persons, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ identities.
Telefilm adds it will try to further diversify its workforce through opportunities such as replacement of maternity leaves or retirements, and filling of existing vacant positions.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Kathleen Beauge — co-chair of action plan who is also legal counsel, legal team leader and CMF program administrator at Telefilm Canada — said in an interview.
“We know that there may be moments where we might have to pause, evaluate, learn, listen a bit more and reassess along the way — and we’re committed to doing so,” added E.J. Alon, fellow action plan co-chair and director of the Talent Fund at Telefilm Canada.
The action plan comes after criticism on social media from some in the Canadian screen world that Telefilm hasn’t moved quickly enough on its 2016 pledge to reflect more diversity onscreen and enhance diversity initiatives by 2020.
Canadian writer-director Pavan Moondi sparked much of the discussion in early July with a series of tweets in which he questioned Telefilm feature film executive Dan Lyon’s decision-making and power over which projects get funding for the Ontario and Nunavut region.
Reacting to the new action plan on Monday, Moondi said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the plans to increase representation.
“With few hard timelines, this equity and inclusion plan is too reminiscent of past announcements detailing Telefilm’s commitment to diversity which were merely kicking the ball downfield,” Moondi wrote to The Canadian Press.
“I look forward to seeing these plans enacted sooner than later, and encourage Telefilm to not just begin collecting data regarding representation among its filmmaking teams in fiscal 2020-2021, but to collect and present data from the last five years.”
The Canadian grassroots organization BIPOC TV & Film also recently called on Telefilm to reveal its statistics on its funding for marginalized groups and its staff makeup.
BIPOC TV & Film also called on Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Telefilm Canada executive director Christa Dickenson to make several changes at the corporation to reflect the racial diversity of the country.
Telefilm recently responded to BIPOC TV & Film with some answers and statistics, and has since had discussions with the group.
Responding to Moondi’s tweets, writer Melissa D’Agostino also alleged that Lyon made a sexually inappropriate comment to her at a party while offering her a meeting at Telefilm to talk about one of her screenplays.
On July 9, Telefilm said it has launched an investigation into allegations of misconduct made against one of its employees, but wouldn’t say who it is.
Beauge and Alon said they were unable to speak about the investigation. Lyon has not responded to requests for an interview.
In its new action plan, Telefilm said it is committed to reviewing and updating “existing Telefilm policies through a lens of diversity and inclusion in order to abolish systemic racism.”
Other pledges revealed Monday include prioritizing data collection, reviewing Telefilm’s decision-making processes, and engaging in ongoing dialogue with underrepresented communities by launching launch an Equity and Representation Action Committee.
“We acknowledge that Canadian creators of underrepresented identities experience greater challenges in obtaining financing,” Telefilm said in the document.
Alon and Beauge are also leading a committee that will work with external groups and continue discussions with communities.
They noted those discussions have included the inaugural Working Group Meeting on Diversity and Inclusion on March 9.
Beauge said they’re looking at Telefilm “from the inside-out” by listening, putting things into action and creating long-lasting change.
“We definitely have been having a lot of conversations lately,” said Beauge.
“And that’s important, because we need to listen and help evolve as an organization in an industry that is evolving at a beyond rapid pace.”
Alon said Telefilm needs “to do better by filmmakers from racialized entities and underrepresented communities who are so vital to our industry.”
“We know that there’s work to be done here,” he said.
“We’ll work on what’s possible, and we know that this is incredibly important.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2020.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press