Why the Banff media festival is putting a spotlight on queer representation

LGBTQ2S+ representation in the Canadian screen industries will be the focus of a Pink Paper

When it comes to the LGBTQ2S+ representation, experiences and opportunities within Canada’s screen industries, things aren’t in focus.

Take the reception of Schitt’s Creek, the beloved Canadian-made sitcom that helped, with its ingenious explanation that character David Rose (played by Dan Levy) sometimes preferred white wine, other times red, as an explanation of sexual fluidity. It, along with dozens of other scenes about sexuality over its six seasons, were praised for showing what it could be like to be accepted without fear of homophobia.

But switch the channel and you have the experiences of Canadian actor Elliot Page, who in his book Pageboy, recounted stories of the abuse he faced in the film industry, including a fellow actor who once told him “I’m going to f— you to make you realize you aren’t gay.” And that is not to mention the deadnaming and transphobic hate from the right that he still experiences.

Or, more recently, there is the experience of Montreal-based Sweet Baby Inc., known broadly as a consultant on diversity in video games. The company and its employees have endured online vitriol in recent months for their work. The hate-motivated campaign directed at Sweet Baby has been compared by some to Gamergate, the 2014 harassment campaign that targeted women in the video game industry. 

All of these examples point to why the results of Pink Triangle Press’ inaugural 2024 PTP Pink Paper on the experiences and representation of Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ community in screen industries—including film, television, streaming and gaming—is anticipated by many, including the Banff World Media Festival, which will host the unveiling of the report on June 11.

“You can do so much good or do so much harm, and it is really important to do things like this Pink Triangle Press survey to really see where things are and to chart a path to where they should,” says Jenn Kuzmyk, the festival’s executive director.

Taking place each year in Banff, Alberta, the festival is an international gathering of top creative professionals in media to create partnerships, pitch projects and discuss trends in the industry. It has also created programs to assist underrepresented creators and producers, like its Netflix-BANFF Diversity of Voices Initiative, which has provided nearly 600 professional opportunities across Canada since its launch in 2018 and the Indigenous Screen Summit that offers First Nations, Métis and Inuit creators an opportunity to pitch their in-development projects to Canadian and international buyers.

That makes it an ideal place to announce the findings and recommendations of the 2024 PTP Pink Paper, said David Walberg, Pink Triangle Press’ CEO. Pink Triangle Press is the parent company of Xtra.

 

“The Canadian and international industry presence at Banff, and its history of progressively recognizing that this industry has a role in important social and political conversations, makes it a natural partner for the release of this groundbreaking work,” says Walberg.

Supported by the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada, the 2024 PTP Pink Paper’s insights will be pulled from foundational research identifying needs, gaps, systemic issues and opportunities for queer and trans professionals working in film, television, streaming and gaming across the country. It will also include interviews with industry stakeholders, a survey of industry professionals and an analysis of how the community is represented by and in the media—in both the French and English markets.

Kuzmyk says the Banff World Media Festival—which runs June 9-12 this year—welcomes the opportunity to be involved in the release of its findings, facilitate conversations about the results and compliment the paper with additional programming, because representation and inclusion are part of its mission. 

The paper’s release will be accompanied by a panel discussion that unpacks its findings and aims overcome barriers to better inclusion. The panel, announced May 16 along with other BANFF efforts to tackle diversity, will be moderated by CPAC anchor Michael Serapio and will include: actress, writer and producer Emily Hampshire; producer and co-founder of Gay Agenda Michelle Mama; actress Cassandra James; and writer, actor and producer Alexander Nunez.

“At Banff, we feel that for ourselves, and for everybody that runs global media, that we should recognize the power and responsibility that we have to change minds and policies, and to reach mass audiences with messages that advance society,” Kuzmyk says.

For example, last year—amid the backlash to drag performance—the festival’s Impact Award was presented to Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, co-founders of RuPaul’s Drag Race production house World of Wonder, for their contribution to screen-based entertainment.

Kuzmyk says the 2024 PTP Pink Paper is being released at a crucial time when authentic representation on screens matter. The past couple of years have seen an increase in the challenges faced by the LGBTQ2S+ community, including the passage of parental rights policies, last fall’s 1 Million March protesting how Canadian schools handle trans- and queer-inclusive education and the rollback of rights in some jurisdictions.

“Both in Canada and the United States, and around the world, it is a very politically charged time where there is partisanship and there are people who do not accept differences of any sort,” says Kuzmyk. “A large part of the solution to inclusion and representation and equity—which this is all part of—is to first see it, and to identify with people on a core and heart level. Authentic representation is paramount. It goes to the very core identity of who people are.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” she says.

The 2024 PTP Pink Paper will be informed by a survey that’s open to people in the film, television, streaming and gaming industries. The survey can be filled out through midnight April 30.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 16 to include the details of a newly announced panel discussion focused on the Pink Paper.

Dean Lisk is a culture, entertainment and travel writer whose work has appeared in publications including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Metro NY. He is the former entertainment and lifestyle editor at Metro English Canada and past editor of WestJet Magazine. He is currently based in Toronto, Canada, and can be followed on Instagram @deanlisk.

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