Toronto is home to a fantastic national organization called BIPOC TV & Film. On February 16, 2022, I had the opportunity to interview their director, Kadon Douglas, on the organization and her role in it. This article includes some background information and an exclusive Q&A with Douglas.
The organization was launched in 2012 as the Indigenous and Creatives of Colour in TV & Film by Canadian writer and director, Nathalie Younglai, who wanted to establish a space for those feeling isolated by the lack of representation. This vision was supported by the founding Visioning Committee members. In 2018, the organization changed its name to BIPOC TV & Film in an attempt to further promote collective action and solidarity amongst all Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (POC).
In 2020, the organization took the leap from being a 100% volunteer-run grassroots collective to a registered non-profit and hired Kadon Douglas as their first Executive Director (figure 2). This was a significant move that was debated for years before being implemented. What accelerated this switch, in the end, were the uprisings against racial violence across North America, issues of colonialism and violence against Indigenous Peoples and communities, and of course, a global pandemic.
Making this change altered the organization’s structure and allowed it to widen its offerings and extend its reach. Since then, BIPOC TV & Film has been able to establish a hiring platform, offer programs to writers, creative leaders, and crew members, and connect to more diverse streams of funding.
To learn more, check out my Q & A session with Kadon Douglas herself.
Q & A with Kadon Douglas
Q: If you had to describe your organization in one sentence, what would it be?
A: In one sentence, it would have to be that we are a national movement, celebrating and championing BIPOC creatives working in the screen industries, and advocating for racial equity across the cultural sector.
Q: In 2020, BIPOC TV & Film took the leap from being 100% volunteer-run to a registered non-profit, and hired you on as their first Executive Director. How do you feel this change has impacted the organization?
A: The demand on the organization was extremely high with so many people wanting to consult, wanting to speak to our team about issues – which is a lot of emotional energy as well. And that’s what we saw. Part of this need for this change was to ensure the creatives involved could have some balance in terms of being able to pursue their creative endeavours and not have this necessary advocacy and activism work totally take over what they’re doing. Because there was significant burnout with it. So, my coming on board was important in terms of structuring the organization for this shift.
We are finally starting to see an influx of funding come in, and funding means we can grow our program, which means we can increase our impact, and build ourselves a team of people dedicated to this work. Now the creative leaders and community can go out there and just create content because that’s what we want them to do.
Q: When donations are made to your organization, how are they utilized?
A: The majority of our donations go right back into the community. Our programs and events are offered at no cost to BIPOC creatives. One thing that we were also able to do last year is to start to pay speaker fees. We also work to ensure that the creatives involved in our panels, facility, and workshops are compensated fairly. As well, donations help make our programming and events even more accessible by allowing us to bring on ASL interpreters.
Q: Tell me a bit about your national workforce developmentprogram, HireBIPOC and its progress to date.
A: We launched the initiative back in October 2020 through financial support from Bell, and some additional support from our foundational partners. Right now, HireBIPOC has over 7,500 members on it. The rate of growth on the recruiter side – the employer side – has been tremendous. So right now, we have about 5,000 job seekers, but the rest of the people are using the platform looking to hire talent. Which has been really motivating. We have people on big productions using the platform to find talent for their shows.
Q: What are some examples of the organizations or businesses that you partner with, and how do these partnerships help you in your mission?
A: We work with partners on several levels. So, we have what I love to call our “solidarity partners”. These are other equity and sovereignty-seeking groups from across Canada that we’re working with. We meet to discuss strategies around advocacy and community engagement. Another level for us would be our funding agencies. Namely Canada Media Fund (CMF) and Telefilm, and we’re represented on several committees within them.
Then, what we’ve been doing for the past two years is meeting regularly with the diversity committees of all the unions, guilds, and associations present in Ontario. We meet with them to find out how we can amplify the work that they’re trying to do within their own unions. What type of pressure do they need from the outside?
Lastly, on the corporate side, we have partners like CBC and Bell Media, working to provide more opportunities, increase access, and work with broadcasters to reform their policies and attitudes towards our community.
So, those are the different ways in which we work with everyone, but one of my big things is: I wouldn’t work with a partner if we cannot be critical of their policies.
Q: What would you say your organizations’ greatest achievement is to date?
A: It is the community we’ve built. It’s an empowered, generous, collaborative community that has been built over 10 years. And all of the opportunities that have been made accessible because of this community. That is what I am most proud of.
Q: In your opinion, what are the 3 greatest challenges BIPOC talent face in our local industry? How do you think they can be overcome or tackled?
A: This is easy: racist outdated policies. That’s like the one umbrella and everything feeds into that. It is also limited access to funding – or the funding we do have access to is incredibly low in comparison to what white producers and creators have traditionally had access to. Also, in terms of job opportunities – we are not hired at the same rate because of racist assumptions about our abilities. It is usually said this is due to a lack of training or skills – that is why we are not as hireable. This is a profound lie – the only thing separating us is an opportunity so we can build our experience, advance in our careers, and accelerate and build our businesses. That brings me to the next one: the lack of investment in BIPOC-owned production companies. There is an extreme struggle to build a sustainable production company in this country.
Q: While conducting our own research, we have noticed there is limited data available focusing on BIPOC individuals in the industry, locally or abroad. Why do you think this is and what can be done to change it?
A: It is all by design. If we are not counted then a case cannot be made. Also, if you have no evidence of it, then does it really exist? It’s the same as if a tree falls in the forest. If no one is around to hear it fall, did it really fall? Well, that’s what’s being applied here. It is a deliberate decision to hide the problem. And that’s why I support organizations like the Racial Equity Screen Office (RESO) and Racial Equity Media Collective (REMC), and what the Black Screen Office and Indigenous Green Office have been doing to advance research and advocate for disaggregated race-based data. Then we can reveal what is actually being done. Hiding the data is such a Canadian thing to do in terms of pretending that we do not have the problem, that we are morally superior to other countries such as America. We are not.
Q: Do you have any advice for BIPOC individuals hoping to break into the industry? (On-screen and/or behind the scenes).
A: Whether it’s on-screen or behind the scenes, we tell people to be very open when they’re coming in, to be very open to the possibilities that are available to them. I say that because when I came into the industry I was like “I want to write and direct documentaries.” However, I wanted to be open and ended up doing lots of research work and production assistant-type work. I did so many things at Real to Reel Productions (run by Anne Pick and Bill Spahic) that helped me figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I don’t think it was until I was 2 years in that I knew for sure that I wanted to produce and be a decision-maker.
I will also say that this sector requires a lot of tenacity and resilience. So for those coming into it should take some time and figure out what their values are, and to be clear on what those are as well. I live a very value-centred life, and thinking about anything that I do, what I engage in has to align with my values. I’m 36 now, but I didn’t know this when I was in my 20s. I don’t think much has shifted for me, but I’m much clearer on that, which has really helped me in terms of my decision-making and leadership.
Q: If you had to choose one person as your biggest inspiration in your work who would it be and why? (Dead or alive, famous or friend).
A: My aunt. She’s alive. Her name is Debbie Douglas and she has worked in the social justice sector for decades, more on the side of immigration and refugee issues. That’s the person who informed my politics and advocacy work, who introduced me to feminist and queer theory as a teen and inspired my love for reading. A lot of my political education came through exposure to her and by being in her orbit. She is the person, other than my grandmothers, who really influenced who I am today.
Want to learn more about the organization and their programs? See the BIPOC TV & Film website.