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Film board hiring new execs to lead anti-racist practices, forge ties with Indigenous groups

Other measures include pledge to make staff “fully reflect Canadian society” by March 31, 2023


By Victoria Ahearn

TORONTO — The National Film Board of Canada is creating two key positions and improving hiring practices as part of new measures it says are aimed at eliminating injustice and systemic racism not just in Canadian society, but also within the institution.

The diversity, equity and inclusion changes come amid a racial reckoning that has many in Canada’s screen industry calling for an increase in funding and representation for creators from Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour communities.

The announcement also comes just over two months after the film board released its strategic plan for 2020-2023, which was delayed from July 2019 as the NFB further consulted with stakeholders who were concerned about the institution’s spending priorities.

The new initiatives include the creation of a director of diversity, equity and inclusion position, to be filled by a candidate from an underrepresented community. The senior role will oversee equity and anti-racist practices, and will be a member of the NFB’s executive committee.

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The NFB is also establishing a new director of Indigenous relations and community engagement position, which will involve forging closer ties with communities. That role will be filled by an Indigenous candidate and help improve Indigenous representation among film board employees, and advise on issues related to production and distribution of NFB works.

“One of the reasons I feel it’s so important to have those two people embedded with us in everything is that we are a white, white, white management committee,” Claude Joli-Coeur, government film commissioner and NFB chairperson, said in an interview.

Having a director of Indigenous relations and community engagement working closely with the top brass will also be greatly beneficial in situations like what the NFB is facing with the documentary “Inconvenient Indian,” he said.

The NFB co-production is on hold for distribution after a CBC News report questioned director Michelle Latimer’s claims of Indigenous identity.

Joli-Coeur said the NFB and producers are still “assessing all the different possibilities” for the film, noting “it’s a very complicated situation” their Indigenous Advisory Committee is providing guidance on.

“That’s an illustration of why we need change, why we need more Indigenous colleagues, and why we need also a champion of Indigenous (projects) to help us to navigate in those very turbulent waters.”

The NFB says the new measures were designed with the input of many internal and external partners, and are in addition to the government agency’s Indigenous Action Plan, now in its third year, as well as its plan for gender parity.

The two new positions will work closely together, report directly to Joli-Coeur, and work with other decision-makers at the organization on a daily basis.

They’ll “have an important influence on anything” the NFB does, from the way it thinks to how it approaches things and finds solutions, he said.

“They will also be our eyes on the floor, because I’m expecting that they will be deeply connected with all of our employees. Anything that we don’t see that is kind of hidden or not on the spotlight that we’re missing, will be brought to our attention.”

Other new measures announced Wednesday include a pledge to make the NFB staff “fully reflect Canadian society” by March 31, 2023.

Figures based on voluntary declaration from the NFB’s fiscal year 2019-2020 show that out of 365 full-time permanent employees, the NFB staff base includes: 211 women, 52 visible minorities, three Indigenous employees, and eight people with disabilities.

The organization says it wants to ensure its slate of directors and producers always includes individuals from underrepresented communities.

And it pledges that at least half of all new hires will be drawn from people in those groups — Indigenous, Black, racialized, and LGBTQ2+, and people with disabilities.

“It’s a transformation of the organization,” said Joli-Coeur.

“We want to set up goals that, within the next two years, will have an important impact on the fabric of our employees and how we work with creators and how we fulfill our mandate.”

Joli-Coeur’s second and final term as commissioner is done at the end of November 2022. He said he’s “preparing the ground” for his successors with specific target dates to help ensure goals are met and the NFB makes significant and lasting changes.

“When I leave the organization, I want see already that change happening, and that’s something that is achievable,” he said, “and after that the ambition should be that we exceed that representation.”

Other new commitments include prioritizing recruitment of individuals (two out of three people) from the aforementioned underrepresented communities for all other management positions as the positions open, “until the NFB accurately reflects the composition of Canada’s population.”

The film board also vows to ensure its programming equitably includes the voices of creators from those underrepresented communities, and that those groups are represented within the NFB’s Creation and Innovation committees.

To help find a wide range of people and companies of diverse backgrounds for contract work, the NFB plans to establish “a respectful, clear, convenient and transparent method of data collection.”

The NFB also pledges to:

  • Continue to highlight creators and promote works from diverse communities in the NFB’s distribution and marketing activities, focusing on themes of social justice, equality, intersectionality, and immigration.
  • Put described video and subtitles on each new film.
  • Work with organizations representing equity-seeking groups to develop greater sensitivity and openness.
  • Create annual action plans with measurable targets for matters of diversity, equity and inclusion at the NFB.
  • Issue independent quarterly reports to the NFB’s executive committee and its board of trustees on issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion, unconscious bias and systemic racism at the NFB.
  • Also issue annual reports on these issues and the progress made.