Lights, Camera, Inclusion – Episode 2
Lights, Camera, Inclusion is the first video series by Now & Next, the editorial platform of the Canada Media Fund (CMF). It focuses on issues related to inclusion and representation on Quebec screens and the potential we see on the horizon.
Gaëlle Essoo, Lead Editor of Now & Next and Diego Briceño, Senior Manager, Diverse Community Content at the CMF, have united about 20 key people from Quebec’s screen industry around five round tables, with the goal of engaging in lengthy and fruitful conversations.
Throughout these episodes, we will address various issues and points of view in order to demystify the particularities of Quebec’s situation, and together, imagine the future of a more inclusive and equitable industry, with future generations in mind.
Episode 2: How do we achieve authentic onscreen representation?
In this second episode, we’ll come back to the importance of recognizing one’s self on screen, and discuss the larger implications of having media that’s representative of a constantly-evolving population.
- Pallina Michelot, co-founder of the On est là agency
- Nadia Kounda, actress
- Sarah Chatelain, producer at Echo Media
The “Key Takeaways” section is by Rime El Jadidi.
A more inclusive definition of Quebec culture
Throughout this exchange, the question of authenticity on Quebec’s screens brought about larger questions on defining Quebec culture. According to Pallina Michelot, the present onscreen culture does not represent the totality of Quebec culture. “I think that it’s one perspective of Quebec culture, but it’s not complete.”
Part of Quebec’s population doesn’t recognize themselves on screen, she continues, especially younger audiences, as well as those from racialized and Indigenous communities.
“We have an incredible generation of young people who are really awake regarding what their culture is,” adds Pallina Michelot. “When I ask them, ‘What is Quebec culture,’ they certainly won’t describe a daily series we see on screen.”
These same series and television programmes still offer very few roles to certain categories of actors, according to Nadia Kounda. The actress, who began her career in Morocco before arriving in Quebec, had to wait ten years before getting television roles. She says that for a long time, even for characters described as “racialized,” she wasn’t considered because of her accent.
With access to only limited kinds of parts, Nadia Kounda admits that she sometimes felt used. “I felt like a product, because now that I’m needed, of course they’ll tell me, ‘You’re pretty, you’re intelligent, you’re talented, we need you…’ But a few years ago, this wasn’t the case.”
Pallina, who is also an actress, remembers that when she started out, when she applied for “Quebec woman” roles, she was told that she couldn’t play those parts, even though this was actually her identity.
For Sarah Chatelain, the current situation can be explained, in part, by Quebec television’s historical need to stand out from anglophone culture in order to survive. “I think there’s a sort of survival mode that took place during several years that we didn’t get out of, but we have to start expanding ourselves with more than this. If all Quebecers saw themselves in it and belonged, that’s what will make Quebec culture continue to stand out and exist.” According to her, the danger still persists of being submerged by American culture or by anglophone Canadian culture. “I think we have to keep what was built behind us, but be careful to not lose sight that the future is changing.”
Breaking away from the star system?
Developing and encouraging a star system was once Quebec’s main defense mechanism, the producer continues. “Now, the question is, ‘Do we let go of the star system concept, or do we make the star system into a more inclusive star system,’” questions Sarah Chatelain. She notes that internationally, within the majority of streaming platforms: “There’s a tendency to separate from the star system and offer new faces to create authenticity and build loyalty to characters. If we look at the most popular streaming series, most don’t feature well-known personalities.”
Pallina Michelot agrees with the idea of making the star system larger and more inclusive. “For me, there’s room for everyone, it’s just that the star system must evolve and really become large-scale, and we have to stop being afraid that, ‘because there are more people beside us, we will have less room,’ because those fans who like you will always like you, even if they like someone else.”
Pallina Michelot is outraged that we still ask professionals from marginalized communities (whether their diversity is physical, cultural; diversity of accents, neuro-diversity, or other) to work for free to prove themselves in the dominant industry. This also touches immigrant and Indigenous people who have worked in independent milieus. “At a certain point, you have to refuse. An experienced Caucasian person would never accept this, and maybe ask double the salary for what you’re asking them to do,” she adds.
To get there, Sarah Chatelain thinks we must get out of “emerging,” Most initiatives that aim for inclusion of talents from marginalized communities are limited to initiation and don’t offer career development. “I think that in ten years, it would be great to have passed the ‘emerging’ step for different kinds of diverse creators and to have TV that is unifying. That’s really the idea, that we all see ourselves within it and that we could feel a sense of belonging with this TV programming.” For her, the next step after representation, diversity, and inclusion is to develop this sense of belonging. To go beyond recognizing one’s self onscreen or behind the camera, and to feel rooted in local culture.