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November 11, 2022

National Film Board Fails Equity Audit

“White lash” resists funding changes
By Zool Suleman
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A recent report released by Racial Equity Screen Office (RESO) gave a failing "F" grade to Canada's National Film Board. Titled "National Film Board of Whose Canada", the October 2022 report found that "Black and racialized creatives" were significantly underrepresented in relation to Canada's growing Black and racialized population. Looking at data relating to Directors of NFB Produced films over the last ten years, the report found that White Directors (70.04%) were overrepresented while Black (4.68%), Asian (8.82%) and Additional Racialized (5.91%) were underrepresented. The report does provide data about Indigenous creatives but does not discuss this data to "respect the sovereignty of Indigenous creatives and the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO)".

In an interview with Rungh, the report's author Barbara Lee, the founder of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF), noted that the NFB needs to reflect "all of Canada" which it is not doing at present. As a national, government funded studio that produces films, the NFB "has to be a leader".

The NFB has not yet issued a public response to the report. Rungh contacted the NFB for comment on a list of specific questions. Magalie Boutin, Head of Media Relations for the NFB did not respond to the specific questions but confirmed that a meeting was held, "Great conversations took place and the conversation will continue".

Lee and RESO Board Member Nilesh Patel, confirm that they both attended an in-person meeting on Monday November 7, 2022, held at the Vancouver offices of the NFB which included current NFB Film Commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur, and Director General of Creation and Innovation Julie Roy.

Asked to comment on the meeting, Lee chose her words, "I think they are being careful…they understand that targets are needed….But I don’t know if they are appeasing us".

The response of other documentary and film organizations across Canada has been disappointing according to Lee, "if they're white-led documentary organizations, it's been pretty much silence". She is not surprised by this lack of support since much of the ally ship from these groups has been "performative" in her view. Patel, a film Producer and Data Advisor for the report, when interviewed by Rungh noted that demographic changes make clear that the NFB has to transform if Canadian made films are to find national and international audiences.

The term "white lash" was referenced during Lee's interview, who is also a RESO Board Member. Lee stated, "It means to me that people from the white community have had a certain amount of privilege and access and funding. And they see that being threatened. And they, as soon as they see that being threatened, there's a lot of push back on it. And to me, it's they don't want to do the sort of hard work and this scraping around for funding that we have done as people of color to get our projects off the ground. They've had a very privileged career in the sense that they are close to the funders, they know each other, they're all around each other. And then there's this whole thing of, of being in those circles, that the access to the funding is so much easier."

Patel sees "white lash" as a type of violence. "It's violence because it's [a] small industry. So, it can be quite simply just questioning, you know, the reality of why this is needed".

Patel also questions the many entry level programs which have been set up for racialized creatives: "it's much easier to make somebody who's just starting their career happy. There's a ton of these programs out there… [for] emerging filmmaker programs, mentoring programs, and all these are low cost, high visibility, young and hip and diverse… [but] the real systemic work…is harder and is dangerous or more dangerous to those who've been on the purse for quite a while".

The RESO report data makes clear that the main beneficiaries of equity policies at the NFB since 2016 have been white women. When asked about this Lee replies: "It's across the industry. It's not just NFB, it's across the industry. Look, I don't need to tell you. You just have to look at the you know, the staffing, the executive levels across broadcasters, they've collapsed racial equity. And who's come up ahead are the white women…it's just whiteness benefiting."

In terms of next steps, Lee and Patel both note that they are seeking "material changes". Joli-Coeur is near the end of his term and at least three of the Trustees of the NFB are about to be reappointed. RESO is asking the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez, the Minister responsible for the NFB, to provide a clear mandate to the incoming Trustees and Film Commissioner to set targets to better represent Black and racialized creatives. "This needs to come from the top level of government, and not in just a statement of hoping, but in mandated targets so that they have to be achieved", says Patel.