BY INDIRA PRAHST
IN an exclusive interview, Meghna Haldar, writer, director and educator working out of Vancouver, elaborated on the petition by a group called Equity Justice last month demanding change of leadership at Knowledge Network. She shared her view on systemic racism and a need for change to reclaim the voices, spaces and narratives of people of colour and Indigenous People.
Indira: What was the reason behind writing and disseminating the petition online (the petition is available on this website)?
Meghna: There was a request for Knowledge [Network] to have an audit because they wanted to see how the funding was being allocated. This year, the results of the audit were released, and the results were staggering in that about 98 percent, which is two million dollars, had gone to white-owned firms, whereas 1.7%, that is $34,000, had been given to companies owned by filmmakers of colour and zero to Indigenous companies.
Indira: What was the response to the results?
Meghna: Knowledge in response to the results released initiatives and that there would be allotted funding for Indigenous-owned companies and people of colour. … The part I was having a problem with was that no one had taken any accountability; in fact, what the president said publicly was that he had reservations about the audit and that it did not reveal the whole story. In effect, he was undermining the audit rather than apologizing for the inequities and the institutional racism many have of us have felt the audit revealed. This is when the question came up: With this attitude, how can the same person, who has presided over systematic racism over 15 years at a public funded broadcaster, be placed in charge of its transformation? … The board had not taken action, the ministries said they don’t know what they can do and so, I got the idea of going out to the public and making our case and hence the petition.
Indira: Does the petition then in your opinion go beyond wanting accountability, in that it also exposes systemic racism you alluded to earlier?
Meghna: A fantastic question. Knowledge is funded by the Provincial Government, a multicultural broadcaster and who shows Indigenous culture. It’s recent project “BC – an untold history” … well, actually the truth behind those projects is that they are being made by white-owned companies and usually written and directed by white directors. … It is problematic when our stories and common histories are given over to the same people to reframe and retell.
Indira: When we look at these issues and the structural barriers for filmmakers of colour and Indigenous People, what impact can this have on the younger generation?
Meghna: Systemic racism is not over. … This audit gives evidence that there has been a pattern of inequities over time. Of course, the impact on younger filmmakers of colour is huge. One of the reasons why we are doing this is so that we can have a new leadership in place that is inclusive.
This not only impacts filmmakers of colour, but Knowledge is also a public broadcaster… and the impact that it has is that it underserves audiences both white or diverse. How does it underserve them? It perpetuates a lie about who we are and what we are. … So, audiences who are not white, or are Indigenous, what they are seeing is what I call “double consciousness,” that is what others think they are, it’s a portrayal of themselves as other … the minds are still being colonized because they are only seeing themselves portrayed by white people, they’re are not authentic portrayals of our stories by us. What happens when white people tell those same stories over and over again to our children is that they grow up thinking of themselves as foreign to themselves. Media has a huge impact on our lives and our minds and, if media is being used in a systematic way, it is a powerful tool of colonization.
Indira: What do you hope will happen as a result of this petition?
Meghna: Diverse people are coming together and signing the petition saying we want a different public broadcaster. … Knowledge is the people’s broadcast, it is not someone’s privately owned company; it’s a publicly owned crown corporation. I am hoping we can reclaim the space, our stories and our voices, and install new inclusive leadership. But for that we need people to sign our petition to make their voices heard.
Indira Prahst is a sociology instructor, specializing in race and ethnic relations, with the Department of Sociology, Langara College.