Canadians Feeling GLAAD

Roll out the red carpet! The 34th annual GLAAD Media Awards are here and a variety of Canadian films and TV shows earned nominations. Here’s a look at our proud nominees and a peek at how GLAAD supports 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. Does Canada need its own version of GLAAD?

The Golden Globes are silly fun, the BAFTAs scream sophistication, and the Oscars channel mainstream entertainment, but for proud queer folks who love film, TV and music, nothing compares to the GLAAD Media Awards.

For the past 33 years GLAAD – the world’s largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer media advocacy organization – has presented awards recognizing and honoring media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and the issues that affect their lives.

The first awards were handed out in New York City on April 29th, 1990. That night GLAAD honoured talk show host Phil Donahue as Media Person of the Year for his committed coverage of the LGBT community. Imagine winning an award for simply giving queer folks a platform to speak their truth.

However, times were changing, and Hollywood slowly began to bring queer characters and storylines to screens. TV shows such as MTV’s The Real World, Roseanne and of course Ellen DeGeneres’s acclaimed coming out episode on Ellen, embraced the LGBT community, and big screen offerings, including My Own Private Idaho, Bound, In & Out broke new ground.

It wasn’t always pretty – gay stereotypes were ever present, and it seemed every straight main character in film and TV had a gay sidekick – and trans and two-spirit representation was almost non-existent.

Fast-forward thirty-plus years and the change is remarkable.

This year’s 34th edition of the GLAAD Media Awards – presented at two gala events, one having already taken place in Los Angeles at the end of March and the other set for May 13th in New York – is notable for its inclusion of Canadian winners and nominees.

Filmmaker, writer, and professor Chase Joynt won the Outstanding Documentary award for his clever and poignant film Framing Agnes, in which trans actors reenact recently discovered transcripts of gender-affirming care patients from the 1950s.

Framing Agnes

Nova Scotia’s two-spirit L’nu filmmaker Bretten Hannam’s coming-of-age road drama Wildhood was nominated for Outstanding Film – Streaming or TV. The film sends Mi’kmaw teenager Lincoln (Phillip Lewitski) and his half-brother in search of their missing mother, and along the way they meet openly two-spirit Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), who helps Lincoln get in touch with his true self. 

Wildhood has drawn both popular and critical acclaim, and for the film’s lead producer, Gharrett Paon, the GLAAD award nomination is icing on the cake.

Wildhood has been nominated for over 30 international awards and won 20 of them,” says Paon. “It’s wild. We've had so much support and love from the industry already.

“But I do think a nomination from GLAAD carries a bit more weight. It’s hard for these no-frills Canadian films to stand out internationally, so to be recognized in the U.S. by the largest advocate for queer representation in media…well you can’t help but smile and be reminded that little films from Nova Scotia can hold their own on the world stage.” 

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For the second consecutive year CBC’s hit show Sort of was nominated as Outstanding Comedy Series. Co-created by Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo, the acclaimed series sees soulful lead character Sabi Mehboob (Bilal Baig), a non-binary millennial, struggling to find their place in the world.

And let’s not forget the kids. One of GLAAD's most inspiring categories is its Outstanding Children’s Programming. Three Canadian-produced animated series earned nods including Pinecone & Pony, featuring non-binary characters. An episode of Dino Ranch, which sees dino dads longing for a dino egg of their own to hatch, and Strawberry Shortcake: Berry in the Big City, featuring a transgender character, picked up the other two nominations.

“Canada is having a moment,” says Mathieu Chantelois, Canada Media Fund’s Executive Vice President, Marketing and Public Affairs. “Canadian productions are winning diversity awards in major industry events around the world. A lot of work still needs to be done, but we must build on this momentum.” 

Dino Ranch
Dino Ranch

Charting the “work that needs to be done” is the engine that drives GLAAD. The organization’s mission expands far beyond award ceremonies. GLAAD does extensive research, charting 2SLGBTQIA+ representation in all media, including streaming, comic books, talk shows and TV news episodes.

Their website charts their findings, such as 2021’s “Where We Are On TV” report, which discovered that out of the 773 series regular characters scheduled to appear on broadcast scripted primetime television in that season, only 9.1 percent were LGBT+.

GLAAD also recorded zero transgender characters in the 44 major studio films released in 2020. That is consistent with the previous three years. That means zero transgender characters across a total of almost 400 films tracked since January 2017.

Filmmakers can also see if their film passes GLAAD’s “The Vito Russo Test,” named after GLAAD co-founder, film historian and author of The Celluloid Closet. It’s based on the famed “Bechdel Test,” which examines the ways in which women are represented on screen.

Among a list of things, to pass the Vito Russo Test a film must include an identifiably 2SLGBTQIA+ character, the character must not be solely, or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the character must be tied to the plot in such a way that removing the character would have a significant effect. Meaning…the character must matter.

Would the Canadian media landscape benefit from its own GLAAD? A watchdog that examines how our homegrown media represents 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, and hands out awards along the way?

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Producer Paon advocates for the work GLAAD does but believes Canada as a unique media environment that doesn’t necessarily need all the glitz and glamour.

“I think we struggle to get Canadians engaged with the various awards we already have,” he says. “I’m not sure we need another award show in Canada that would mostly capture the attention of our own industry, especially because it feels like queer content is consistently recognized by our existing awards. Brother, which has queer themes just swept the Canadian Screen Awards, and our film, Wildhood, was nominated for Best Picture last year.

“There are countless other examples year after year. Pound for pound, I think Canada does a fantastic job at celebrating queer content.”

CMF’S Chantelois has a bit of a different take.

“GLAAD has been an incredible leader around the globe, and Canada has benefited from their research and advocacy,” he says. “But Canada is not the States. We need to develop our own expertise, our own protocols on set, our own research.”

Ingrid Randoja
Freelance writer Ingrid Randoja is the former film editor of Toronto’s NOW Magazine, the former deputy editor of Cineplex Magazine, and a founding member of the Toronto Film Critics Association.
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