Now & Next Podcast S3E2 – The Time Is Now: Achieving On-Screen Racial Diversity

On this episode of Now & Next host Leora Kornfeld is joined by award-winning actor and founder of Reelworld Film Festival Tonya Williams to chat about concrete ways to achieve meaningful and long-lasting racial representation in front and behind the camera.

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Making on-screen racial diversity easier to achieve

Canada is among the world’s most culturally and racially diverse countries. But what we see on the streets is rarely reflected on our screens. That’s why actor Tonya Williams, best known for her two-decade role as Dr. Olivia Barber on the long running-soap The Young & The Restless, has made it her mission to bring increased racial and ethnic diversity to Canadian TV and film productions. 

Her first step toward this goal was founding the Reelworld Film Festival back in 2001. The initial objective of the festival was to showcase Black actors, writers, producers and directors in Canada. It has since expanded to include Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latinx talent. 

The festival’s 20th anniversary is coming up this October 2020 (14th-19th) and will be taking place online. Its newest feature, launched this summer, is an online database called Access Reelworld. It helps match racially diverse on-screen talent with writers, producers, and directors. Williams believes that now is the perfect moment for this kind of industry tool. The technology needed to build such a database has recently become much more affordable plus inclusion and equitable representation are top of mind priorities for producers, writers, directors, and networks. 

On this episode of Now & Next Tonya also discusses how she defines success for the various initiatives she is driving and what she sees as the important work that still needs to be done.

In this episode, learn more about:

  • Rachel Lui’s experience as a Toronto-based Asian actor (1:54)
  • How Tonya’s goals for Reelworld have changed over the festival’s 20 years of existence (2:54)
  • Inspiring data collection and leadership hiring initiatives from the U.K. and the U.S. (5:52)
  • How the Reelworld Producers Program intends to solve the lack of representation of Canadian Black, Indigenous, People of Colour producers (9:02)
  • Why Tonya and many others are not fans of the acronym BIPoC (12:10)
  • The story of how the Access Reelworld database came to be (16:45)

Download a transcript of the episode

Dig Deeper

  • For recent data on diversity in the Canadian screen-based industries, read the report Changing the Narrative: 2020 Status of Canadian Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in Canada's Screen-based Production Sector available for download on Reelworld
  • The Reelworld film festival will be celebrating its 20th edition this year from October 14-19. Access the program here
  • Tonya talks about a new program supporting emerging Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour producers presented by Bell Media. Find all the details here.
  • Read 'We are not better than the U.S.': Expert slams premiers' comments on racism in Canada on Q107
  • Read Where Did BIPOC Come From? on The New York Times 
  • Take a look at the Access Reelworld database to upload your profile or search for Canadian Black, Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American in the creative industries


Special thanks to Now & Next’s production assistant Sabrina Brathwaite for interviewing Toronto-based actor Rachel Lui

About Now & Next

Now & Next is a podcast featuring in-depth interviews in which experts take a closer look at emerging trends and the digital transformation of the media and entertainment industries. Now & Next is brought to you by the Canada Media Fund, produced by Katie Jensen and Sabrina Brathwaite and recorded in Toronto at Vocal Fry Studios. Leora Kornfeld hosts the series.