Canadian broadcasters get failing grade on Asian representation

All those channels - but just a small share of representation. What an audit of Canadian broadcasters found while looking for Asian characters on TV. Crystal Laderas reports.

Canadian broadcasters have gotten a failing grade on Asian representation from a new report that is reporting main Asian characters make up about 8.8 per cent at best.

The CBC, CityTV, CTV, Global and the Knowledge Network all got an ‘F’ from the Elimin8hate’s Diversity on Screen audit. This lack of representation fuels stereotypes, making it hard for actors and devaluing the role Asian and people of colour have in society, the Vancouver Asian Film Festival advocacy arm says.

Researchers with the Vancouver Asian Film Festival scanned 332 programs for Asians who appeared in at least half the episodes.

The numbers reflected in the report were lower than what was expected, VAFF founder and president Barbara Lee said.

“If we allow other people to tell our stories, often it’s not authentic, often it’s stereotypical, it’s what people envision or think we are like, and often it’s not true and then it perpetuates all these stereotypes and harms to the community, and we’re not seen as individuals. We’re really seen as sort of a monolith,” she said.

Valerie Sing Turner, founder and artistic producer at Visceral Visions, as well as the creative director at CultureBrew.Art has acted in TV and film since the 90s. She says it’s the systems that need to change, pointing to the film industry and legislation like the Broadcasting Act.

“The Broadcasting Act, which is 30 years old, is undergoing a review and amendments through Bill C-11,” she says.

There is potential for more diversity and funding if Bill C-11, an update to the Broadcasting Act, passes and sets up the CRTC to begin regulating streaming networks, Lee says.

“At the provincial level, there’s another initiative with the Vancouver Chapter of the Women in Film and Television with a request to enact an equity requirement for B.C.’s film and television tax credits. So this would require production companies to track and report on the demographic distribution of the funds dispersed through labour tax credits. And this equity film incentive would seek to achieve the gender as well as racial equity targets,” Turner adds.

She says there is provincial and federal funding for productions but if it’s not funnelling down to racialized groups, nothing will change.

“It all comes down to money,” she insists.

“We have these waves where we become the flavour of the month. A certain genre like martial arts films or those sort of things are the flavour of the month, of the year and we all get hopeful that things are changing and then it just recedes again,” she says.

The report also calls for more funding for Black and racialized community arts groups, an equity audit and some room to learn and grow.

“Being allowed to fail is a privilege that the BPOC community has not experienced … often we get one opportunity, if we don’t hit it out the park there’s no other opportunity and that’s not right. The Hollywood reporter said 60 per cent of television shows fail. But those producers aren’t blackballed from never doing anything else again,” Lee added.

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