Canadian film policy, not ‘Canadian’ enough for the visible minorities

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The deficiency of multiculturalism/diversity and related policies in the Canadian film industry illustrates the minimal attention given to Canadian transnational films. This unit’s readings demonstrate that funding for Canadian transnational films is a challenge, which leads to production and distribution issues. The lack of multiculturalism/diversity and related policies in the Canadian film industry is problematic especially to a multicultural nation. Transnational films bring different cultural meanings to the wider Canadian identity. However, this pluralist nation wants to make films that reflect a Canadian reality, but first–generation immigrant creators are considered .  In fact, the two films Double Happiness and Masala are examples of how diasporic identities give a voice to the youth of those second-generation immigrants. The youth voice is integrated into the films through fantasy/fiction vs. reality/non-fictional, and through stereotypical struggles that highlight youth diasporic identities.

Funding for transnational films appears to be a difficult task since the Canadian point system can be prejudice, which we saw in Mehtla’s case for the film Sam & Me. Not being Canadian enough to get funding can disturb the filmmaker’s nostalgic notion of the narrative. The authenticity of a transnational film comes from the filmmaker’s cultural experience that influences the plot. Transnational films should not solely be about the reflection of English and French Canadian identities, it is about giving space to the communities of visible minorities in Canada. Canadian film policies seem to force transnational producers to create hybrid cultures and create unofficial forms of identities. This is why people of colour do not get a chance to tell their stories. Films Double Happiness and Masala display a sense of ethnic cleansing in order to feature Canadian lifestyles and “Canadian-ness” in the films. For example, Jade and Andrew go to a bar at the end of their family-setup date, which is not usual in a traditional Chinese culture; as well, being engaged in yoga/fitness activities with provocative sexual clothing is unusual for an Indian wife. The sex scenes, the moving out of the house before marriage, and pursuing a career against the will of the family is evident in the films, which washes away the typical ethnic values. However, these films express the hybridity of Canadian culture for those immigrant families. This can be seen as ethnic cleansing of cultures for Chinese-Canadians and Indian-Canadians. In fact, it appears to me that Canadian transnational films make it seem as though the immigrant experience in Canada is meant to collapse. In order to get Canadian funding, the more hybrid perspective of “Canadian-ness” is featured in the films regardless of the authenticity of different cultural values. Funding for transnational films is a struggle because filmmakers are hindered from creating authentic ethnic storylines because they end up not being Canadian enough.

The lack of multiculturalism/diversity and related policies in the Canadian film industry is problematic because filmmakers from communities of visible minorities are forced to engage in ethnic cleansing in order to get Canadian funding. Transnational films should bring different cultural meanings to the wider Canadian identity not just have them as “old world” identities. Now Feature Film Policy states that it is important to foster the quality and diversity of Canadian feature films and to build larger audiences. It is a good start to see policies paying more attention to preserving the diversity of different cultures in Canada. According to the Canadian Heritage (Film and Video), film is a powerful medium that influences the way we see the world by offering captivating pictures of faces, places, and experiences that we might not otherwise experience.

Double Happiness and Masala gives a voice to the diasporic youth and tells them that if they are in Canada they do not have to be forced to get married, they can choose a career that they like rather than their parents want, and can be independent as a citizen. All three of these factors go against strong East and South Asian cultures. However, the two films can give insight for the youth that even though they were born in strict cultures they have hope in life because they are citizens of Canada. Both films depict how youth life is a struggle between fantasy/fiction vs. reality/non-fictional, especially for diasporic young adults. For example, in Double Happiness, Jade frequently performs as a non-Chinese actress when she fantasizes about her colourful, prosperous, and vibrant career. But she never gets to finish her part in her imaginary world because the reality disturbs it when she is called downstairs to do household chores. It also symbolizes that she needs to be prepared to be a wife soon and her struggle with her career dreams. Similarly Anil, a medical student who fantasizes about sexual pleasure with a girl that was brought for a marriage proposal shows his greed for sexual pleasure. In South Asian culture sex before marriage is highly restricted, therefore, Anil even tries to get sexual pleasure over a women’s fitness lesson program on television. He has been pressured into medical school and in order to maintain social status he does not have the freedom to gain real sexual pleasure with a real woman. On the other hand, Rita wants to get into the airline industry but her father dreams about her becoming a medical doctor. Jade’s sexual relationship with the Caucasian individual (Mike) is a way to show independence and freedom for young adults. The two films send a message to diasporic youth that they have opportunities and independence since they can embrace Canadian culture. Again, on the flip side both these films are mocking the authenticity and strong traditions of these cultures. It is a way to show how to be a Chinese-Canadian or Indian-Canadian, rather than to be a true Chinese or Indian youth.

In addition, both films send a message to the diasporic youth that they have to cope with stereotypical struggles if they reside in Canada. For example, when Jade was asked to perform an accent she decides to do a French accent, however she has to perform a Chinese accent because this is the only type of accent she is allowed to do. These struggles are also evident when the Chinese director expects Jade to read Cantonese and she is unable to do so. This shows how diasporic youth fall into an in-between position where they seem to not fully belong to one place. In Masala, a group of racist teens always chased the little Indian boy (Rita’s brother). Finally, one of the racist teens stabs Krishna to death trying to save the little Indian boy from being beaten up. This sends a message to the diasporic youth to cope with racist actions. However, in both films these visible minority communities find peace and justice, which also gives courage to diasporic youth that Canada is also a place for them to thrive. Canadian transnational cinema seems to mock ethnic cultures in order to value Canadian-ness. Yes, it does give a voice for the diasporic youth community while also cleansing their cultures. Funding systems need to allow transnational filmmakers to have to space to create an authentic cultural meaning.

Tinu Silva