What You See Is What We Get

It’s been over a year since the lockdown has kept us all at home. During this extended period of uncertainty, we’ve spent evening after evening streaming movies and watching TV in search of reassurance and consolation. But for us, just like the many other Quebecers from different communities and diverse backgrounds the stories on our screens have little we can relate to. In fact, what we see actually makes things worse. Instead of the vibrant, thriving, multi-cultured Quebec one can experience on the street, we’re served up a bland, homogeneous version of reality on screen. And when you rarely, if ever, see yourself represented on screen, it can actually feel like you don’t exist at all.

According to the 2016 census, nearly 13% of the Quebec population – more than 1.1 million viewers – identified themselves as members of visible minorities. Yet a 2017 Le Devoir analysis of the ten most popular films in Quebec revealed that no more that 4% of the characters in those films were from visible minorities. The representative factor on the small screen isn’t much better. A 2018 Radio-Canada study showed that only 97 out of 894 roles in television series that year were played by actors from ethnocultural or Indigenous communities.

It’s vital  for members of visible minorities to play more than just supporting roles and to be given more than just junior positions on film sets. It’s time to rethink the entire process, including children’s programming, to better reflect the diversity of our homes so that kids from all backgrounds can see themselves on screen and feel included, too. The same goes for our awards ceremonies so that Indigenous and ethnocultural actors in all genres can be recognized instead of being left off nomination lists completely.

We’re putting our voices together today to ask industry stakeholders to give us the opportunity to tell our own non-stereotypical stories in all their magnificent diversity and nuanced shades. Our heartfelt wish is that all Quebecers, regardless of their origins and gender, will once and for all be able to make their contribution to our collective imagination and to enrich our common heritage in the process.

Our world is undergoing dramatic changes as movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and public protests against stigmatizing Asians clearly attest. Voices that once were silent are now being heard in open challenges to longstanding prejudices, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and calling for greater equality in every sector. In these turbulent waters, the ship of state must accelerate the process and stay the course.

As the pandemic forces us to re-evaluate our way of doing things, let that include our underused resources and talents and our need for more inclusive practices for our collective well-being. The word collective must be emphasized because the situation concerns society as a whole and not just our industry. It affects every aspect of life since fictional works and documentaries have a real impact on the way reality is perceived. It’s an incredible opportunity to positively change the world in a sustainable way because the more inclusion we see on the screen, the more it becomes accepted on the street.

Audiovisual productions have a greater impact now than ever on the common values we all share. And since the Quebec we call home is positioned as a beacon of francophone culture in America, it’s time to really let our light shine. And to let it enlighten all those living here.

We're making our case even stronger with the Découvrons-nous campaign in conventional and on social media. But to make it work, it’s a conversation we all have to have together.

What can we do to shape the world of tomorrow? By reaching out to what is different, and then making room for the stories that can make a difference. There’s no surer way to lose the struggle for equality and diversity than by not speaking up loud and clear. 

Mélissa Bédard, Mehdi Bousaidan, Jemmy Echaquan Dubé, Khate Lessard, Mariana Mazza, and Cynthia Wu-Maheux, ambassadors for the découvrons-nous campaign for more inclusion and equality on screen.

The Canada Media Fund (CMF) fosters, develops, finances and promotes the production of Canadian content and applications for all audiovisual media platforms. The CMF guides Canadian content towards a competitive global environment by fostering industry innovation, rewarding success, enabling a diversity of voice and promoting access to content through public and private sector partnerships. The CMF receives financial contributions from the Government of Canada and Canada’s cable, satellite and IPTV distributors.
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