Long before #OscarsSoWhite was a hashtag, the lack of diversity in film has been a hot topic in Hollywood and in other parts of the world, including across the pond in the UK (where media giants like the BBC, SKY and others have introduced initiatives to address the problem), and in Canada as well. Now, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which serves as the country’s national public broadcaster, is launching what it calls the Breaking Barriers Film Fund.

“We are striving to make a meaningful difference by supporting underrepresented creators directly and investing in their films,” said Heather Conway, CBC’s executive vice-president of English Services yesterday in Toronto. “It’s a really difficult area for people to get financing, and it’s an especially difficult area for the groups we are talking about: women, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and visible minorities.”

The commitment will see Canada’s national broadcaster invest at least $7.5 million dollars into the fund over the next three years.

Among other criteria, each prospective project must be a fictional English-language feature film from a creator who has had at least one feature film at a recognized festival.

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent report highlighting a significant gender discrepancy in Canadian film and television. The 40-page report prepared for the group, Canadian Unions for Equality on Screen, earlier this fall, found that women make up less than 20% of directors getting work in Canada.

“I think in particular the CBC looks to say: ‘What is the private sector not doing and how can we help?'” she said. “We know these groups have always had trouble getting financing so, if we are going to play in the features business, let’s play in a way that helps the groups that have the hardest time getting funding.”

The CBC made a similar move to level the playing field in television earlier this year, pledging to have women direct at least half of all upcoming episodes of its scripted series.

The commitment follows ongoing efforts to develop short-form video creators who identify as Indigenous, having a disability or belonging to a visible minority community.

“[Representing diversity] is not something we consider some kind of task that we have to do,” says Conway. “We need to connect with our audience. Our audience is made up of varied group of people. We need to reflect that.”

Full details can be found on the website: www.cbc.ca/breakingbarriers.

Watch Heather Conway, CBC’s executive vice-president of English Services, discuss the Breaking Barriers Film Fund below: