Performers heartened by diversity of nominees for Canadian Screen Awards

While diversity woes plague the Oscars, Canadian performers are touting a much more inclusive slate of nominees for this country’s biggest film and television awards.

TORONTO — While diversity woes plague the Oscars, Canadian performers are touting a much more inclusive slate of nominees for this country’s biggest film and television awards.

Film actors nominated for Canadian Screen Awards include Waris Ahluwalia and Balinder Johal for Beeba Boys, and Irdens Exantus for My Internship in Canada.

On the TV side, acting nominations include Adrian Holmes for 19-2, Al Mukadam for Spun Out, Brittany LeBorgne for Mohawk Girls and Lyriq Bent, Aunjanue Ellis and Shailyn Pierre-Dixon for Book of Negroes.

Helga Stephenson, the head of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television — which administers the awards — says her group’s members are generally younger and include more women than the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, which runs the Oscars.

The Oscars bash is facing calls for a boycott over its all-white acting nominees. The academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, has responded by promising “big changes,” including an examination of its membership.

Many observers expected nominations for Idris Elba of Beasts of No Nation and Benicio Del Toro for Sicario. The N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton also failed to earn a best picture nomination, despite some predictions it would.

Holmes says he was rooting for Elba and was disappointed when the celebrated British actor failed to make the cut. But he says it’s a much different story in Canada.

“Here, I think we did a great job. It was very diverse, I thought,” Holmes says of the list of nominees, revealed Tuesday at a downtown press conference.

He was watching the Oscars flap unfold and was keen to see Isaacs’s pledge take root.

“Hopefully we’ll get it right, more consistently,” he says.

“We are definitely making improvements but we’re not 100 per cent there yet and I’m being optimistic that we will get there.”

LeBorgne, whose APTN show Mohawk Girls is also up for best TV comedy, says she was heartened to see a variety of ethnicities among Canadian nominees.

“It’s such a diverse group of people and I think that actually reflects what Canada is, who Canada is. I think that’s amazing,” she says.

But Reign actress Megan Follows says more can always be done to nurture diverse storytelling.

“We are an incredibly diverse country so our stories need to reflect that,” says the veteran star, up for best actress in a TV drama for the period saga.

“It’s critical that we do that.”

Stephenson says the Canadian academy’s 4,000 members are about 40 per cent female and most are between the ages of 35 and 50.

“Are we perfect? No. Is there more to do? Lots. But nonetheless I don’t think we face the same problems as the academy in the States,” she says.

19-2 showrunner Bruce Smith says the Oscars problem can also be traced to casting.

“We ended up with a really wonderfully diverse cast just by casting each part and giving them to the best actor for each role,” says Smith.

“There is something wrong when all the nominees in an entire country are white. What the hell? Either people aren’t getting the roles or their work’s not being recognized. Something’s wrong there.”