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B.C.’s public broadcaster failing Asian community: Study

June 9, 2022

By Vancouver Sun |

Fewer than four per cent of the main characters in fictional shows on B.C.’s public broadcaster are Asian, the lowest of any broadcaster studied, according to a report by the Vancouver Asian Film Festival.

The study, which could be the first of its kind in Canada, calculated the percentage of “main” actors who appeared to be Asian, Black or a person of colour, among scripted shows on five Canadian broadcasters. Main actors were those who appeared in 50 per cent or more of the episodes in a season.

The results ranged from a high of 8.8 per cent on Global TV to the Knowledge Network’s low of 3.9 per cent.

While the results validated what many in the community already knew, they were still surprising, said Barbara Lee, founder and president of the festival.

“We knew it anecdotally,” Lee said. “We didn’t know it was that low.”

The results underscore the limited opportunities for Asian actors, filmmakers and media workers in Canada, the report says. It also notes that many studies have shown correlations between onscreen representation and racial and gender biases.
Many communities in Canada have very few people of colour, Lee said. “So their proxy is to say, ‘What I see on TV is a reflection of that community.’”

She said public broadcasters are obligated to represent the diversity of the communities they serve.

“If you get taxpayer dollars,” she said, “taxpayers should have themselves reflected.”

Glenna Pollon, communications director at Knowledge Network, didn’t directly address the results of the lack of Asian representation onscreen but wrote an email that the network was committed to commissioning “at least 50 per cent of Knowledge Original documentary features and shorts from independent, Black and people-of-colour led production companies.”

Five-of-the-nine children’s series supported by the broadcaster in 2021-22 were from racialized producers, she added.
Many of those efforts were a result of an earlier report by the festival, which called out the network for discrepancies in funding for racialized production companies.

The lack of Asian actors was especially striking considering the number of high-profile film productions with Asian casts and creators that have received widespread critical and public acclaim in the past decade, including Oscar-winner Parasite, Crazy Rich Asians and the Life of Pi.

Lee said that despite the established appetite to see Asian communities onscreen, Asian actors and media creators in Canada simply aren’t given the same opportunities to fail that their Caucasian counterparts receive.

“The Hollywood Reporter says that 60 per cent of television shows fail,” Lee said. “It’s a part of the industry.”

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