Arts·Point of View

Attention white straight cisgender male filmmakers: Diversity is not a threat

Recent calls for more inclusion in the Canadian film and television industries ultimately benefit everyone.

Calls for more inclusion in film and television ultimately benefit everyone

Stella Meghie's Jean of the Joneses, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. (TIFF)

The last week has brought an onslaught of news from south of the border that has been staggeringly depressing for anyone who champions diversity. But a pair of news items here in Canada are offering a little solace in that regard: two of the country's leading media institutions have announced initiatives that could each go a long way in changing the drastic disparities in the demographics that create this country's cinema.

The first announcement came from here at the CBC, where the Breaking Barriers Film Fund was announced as a commitment of at least $7.5 million over three years for films from women, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and visible minorities. Two days later, Telefilm Canada stepped up their own game with a five-pronged action plan to achieve a balanced production portfolio "that reflects gender parity in each of the key roles of director, writer and producer" by 2020. 

These are small steps with respect to inclusiveness in Canadian cinema as a whole. A recent study focusing on gender showed that men directed 83% of Canadian feature films over 2013-14, and while statistics with regard to race were not available, you can guess that the vast majority of those men were white. So there's a long way to go. But seeing both announcements being shared with hopefulness on social media was certainly a nice refuge amidst the endless outrage of the past week.

That is, until I came across a certain disgruntled male filmmaker, who shared the Telefilm announcement with the following caption: "F--k this...guess I have to move to Europe to make movies now." 

What these institutions are ultimately encouraging is that cinema becomes an art of multiculturalism as much as Canada needs to continue to aspire to be a country of it.- Peter Knegt

The fact that this individual (who has since deleted the post) felt comfortable suggesting he's somehow become disadvantaged by the Telefilm announcement (or the CBC's, for that matter) is pretty ridiculous. But — whether we want to believe it or not — what's more pressing here is that he's not some lone wolf in the Canadian film industry. They might not be openly posting their outrage our Facebook feeds, but we'd be naive to think the CBC and Telefilm's announcements (or BravoFACT's similar one last year) didn't ruffle more than a few bigoted feathers.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: white, straight, cis male filmmakers are unlikely to ever be at a disadvantage in a society that has been offering them extraordinary privilege since the days they were born. If they feel threatened by the idea of these many disenfranchised groups finally getting a more fair shot at joining them in making movies, chances are they probably aren't very good at making movies themselves (or trying hard enough to become good at it). For them to feel anything but happy and proud that organizations like the CBC and Telefilm are doing their part to correct a problem that runs deeper than any one industry is indicative of the same narcissistic white male panic that got Donald Trump elected.

Sally Hawkins and director Aisling Walsh on the set of Maudie. (Mongrel Media)

I should definitely note that I myself am an occasional filmmaker who has received funding in Canada, and more importantly that I am a white cis male. I'm also queer, but intersected with my race, gender and class, I'm not sure I can call this much of a significant disadvantage anymore (at least not in the Canada of 2016). My perspective on this might not be the most necessary, but the point is that it's not difficult for white cis males to see these announcements as progressive and necessary. My own background has always involved working on films where the writers, producers, directors, actors and cinematographers have been a mix of different genders, races and sexual identities. Bringing people with a diversity of experiences together to work on such a collaborative type of art has never felt anything but deeply valuable to the film itself.

Telefilm Canada and the CBC are not asking for submissions where everyone involved is exclusively women, or exclusively people of a certain race or ethnicity, or exclusively anything. There are certainly instances where productions should be exactly that, but what these institutions are ultimately encouraging is that cinema becomes an art of multiculturalism as much as Canada needs to continue to aspire to be a country of it. So some words of wisdom to those who feel slightly even annoyed by this progress in Canadian film: moving away isn't going to make you a better filmmaker. But maybe moving past your ignorance and collaborating on some projects with people that have different experiences and perspectives will.


Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.