ACTRA Toronto’s Diversity Co-Chair Lisa Michelle with Amir Endalah (Founder and CEO) at Farsi Cinema Center Happy Hour.

FCC Partners with ACTRA Toronto to Empower Farsi-speaking Talent On-Screen

Another edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) wrapped up earlier this month with thousands of people spending hours in rush lines, taking over festival street, and marinating in the festival excitement. With nearly half a million people flocking to the festival each year, TIFF has taken on a mammoth responsibility of reflecting the diverse communities of Toronto through the projects and filmmakers selected for its programming. Stepping up to the plate, this year’s programme delivered; representing 84 countries and 87 languages.

In addition to its impressive film selection, TIFF curated a variety of industry conferences geared at identity-based diversity on the big screen. One that really struck a chord with Farsi Cinema Center’s mission was “Authentic Casting: The Real World on Screen.” Paneled by Azita Ghanizada, Phil Yu, Tracy Lysette, Christine Bruno, and Russel Boast, the conference adressed the need for increased race-based, sex-based, LGBT, and disability inclusion in world cinema, and delved deep into issues pertaining to harmful stereotypes. Clearly outlining the difference between “real” and “reel” diversity, the panelists got candid about their personal experiences.

FCC live at TIFF’19 conference on ‘Authentic Casting: The Real World On Screen’. Watch the video of the live-streamed discussion here. Photograph by Juhi Dhingra.

US-based actress and activist Azita Ghanizada shared her struggle as an Afghan-born actress with a Muslim name looking for work in the post 9/11 era. She elaborated on how a majority of interactions with casting directors and studios nudged her toward stereotypical roles, which she turned down and eventually axed from her career. Pointing out how “diversity [only] became important five years ago,” she called attention to the problematic number of actors from the MENA region being typecast as terrorists. Lysette responded by equating diversity with humanity, which drew applause from the audience. While all the panelists acknowledged efforts to move toward a more diverse film fraternity, the common underlying idea was the need for more initiatives.

Ghanizada’s passion for improving representation in the industry fueled her to found the MENA Arts Advocacy Coalition (MAAC). The coalition, based in the US, works toward the advancement and visibility of Middle Eastern and North African performers on-screen in film, television, and online streaming platforms. Ghanizada’s call for increased diversity in casting and writing rooms resonates with one of FCC’s main goals to collaborate with international filmmakers and ensure Farsi-speaking communities are adequately and accurately represented in the industry.

Kaveh Mohebbi (Filmmaker and former CFC alum) speaks with Faran Moradi (Director of Tehranto) at our TIFF Happy Hour, 2019

FCC’s desire to address the unmet casting standards gave birth to a partnership with ACTRA Toronto, Canada’s largest union of film, television, and digital media performers. Through its Diversity Committee, ACTRA recommends policies and advocates for support structures with diverse artistic communities to help create an inclusive environment and correct historical inequities within Canada’s recorded media sector. We announced our official partnership at TIFF, during a happy hour that created a space for Farsi-speaking ACTRA members, producers, and industry affiliates to meet and discuss potential avenues for collaboration.

Working with ACTRA Toronto, we hope to redefine the inclusion of Farsi-speakers on screen, and open opportunities for Farsi-speaking communities to share their real life experiences with the world. Behind the propagandized stories of war and violence exist stories of love, heartbreak, family struggles, and happiness – stories Farsi directors are unraveling on the big screen one at a time. Here’s to seeing a more balanced perspective on screen in the future.

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