Montreal

Minority communities 'too niche' for Quebec TV and film

Jephté Bastien was disheartened to find the Quebec film industry wasn’t opening many doors for him, despite being an award-winning filmmaker. He soon realized the films he wanted to make — about minority communities — weren't considered Quebec films.

Award-winning minority artists still having hard time finding opportunities to represent their communities

Award-winning filmmaker Jephté Bastien said he still has trouble finding financing for his projects because his movies aren't about white Quebecers. (CBC)

Real Talk on Race is CBC Montreal's special series exploring personal conversations and experiences around race in the city.


Jephté Bastien was disheartened to find the Quebec film industry wasn't opening many doors for him, despite being an award-winning filmmaker.

"The joke was on me," said Bastien, who won a Genie Award for Best Director for his film Sortie 67.

"I thought I was finally going to be part of the Canadian brotherhood of filmmakers. I was wrong."

Bastien said, unlike most filmmakers who win Genie awards, he has been unable to get funding for his projects since Sortie 67 came out in 2011.

RAW: Quebec filmmaker Jephté Bastien on race in film

6 years ago
Duration 0:50
Jephté Bastien tells CBC he was disheartened to find the Quebec film industry wasn't opening many doors for him, despite being an award-winning filmmaker. 0:50

"They told me if I want to make films here in Canada — I had to make Quebecer films. I had no idea what that meant," he said.

Bastien said he eventually understood that remark to mean that films representing minority communities were not considered "Quebecer films."

 "The norm is white, and you have to just sit back and watch how the norm lives."

Typecast as a gangster

The lack of diversity on Quebec television had tempers flaring recently when comedian Louis Morissette justified the use of blackface by saying there weren't enough black actors.

Comedian Louis Morissette and media relations advisor Carla Beauvais duked it out on the popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle over blackface in Quebec and typecasting black actors. (Radio-Canada)
In a debate on the popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle, media relations advisor Carla Beauvais countered Morissette's argument, saying Quebec television producers didn't appear to have any trouble finding black actors when it came time to cast a gangster.

Beauvais' criticism of typecasting in the Quebec film industry spoke to experiences actor Irdens Exantus knew all too well.

Exantus proved of his acting abilities when he won a Quebec Cinema gala award for best supporting actor in the movie Guibord s'en va-t-en guerre.

Actor Irdens Exantus won his first award for playing a parliamentary intern in rural Quebec, but turned down several gangster roles before he got the part. (Radio-Canada)
But Exantus had to turn down many stereotypical black male roles before he got the part as a parliamentary intern in rural Quebec that won him the award less than two weeks ago.

"When they ask me about playing characters that are coming from gangs or something, I usually refuse because I have the conviction that I can play characters that you don't need to talk about [their] colour or [their] culture," he said.

Forging their own paths

RAW: Tracy Deer creates hit show Mohawk Girls

6 years ago
Duration 1:10
Film director Tracy Deer created her own lane with the hit show Mohawk Girls. 1:10

Many waiting for opportunities to represent a less white Quebec on television and the big screen grew impatient with the industry and forged paths of their own.

Bastien, for example, is now putting the finishing touches on his passion project Vortex, a film he's making on his own.

Film director Tracy Deer created her own lane with the hit show Mohawk Girls.

When Jephté Bastien won the Genie for Best First Feature at the Canadian Screen Awards in 2011, he thought he had it made. But the financial support for 'Vortex' has been anything but easy! His story. 16:49

The television series puts indigenous women and their lives front and centre and was made possible by indigenous supporters like the Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN) and Rezolution pictures.

"When I was a kid, I did not see myself or my people reflected on television. So never in a million years did it ever enter my mind that I would one day get to tell stories...that came from my experience or were about my people," film director Tracy Deer said.

Deer said big television networks in Canada didn't want to take a chance on stories about minority communities because they're "too niche."

"Of course, there's also the bottom line. Lots of money goes into producing these shows and networks want a sure bet. I think they believe that Canadians will not tune in," she said.

But with four Canadian Screen Award nominations this year, Deer said the success of Mohawk girls said otherwise.

For Deer, representation has an impact far beyond the world of television — she believes it can change attitudes.

"We are still very invisible to Canadians," she said.

"I want this country to be better for my people. I want it to be better for Canadians as well, and until we have mutual respect and compassion for each other, it's not going to happen."

With files from Ainslie MacLellan

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