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Netflix launches development program for diverse Canadian writers

Writers from underrepresented groups get paid mentorship and consultation sessions
This Aug. 13, 2020, photo shows a logo for Netflix on a remote control in Portland, Ore. Netflix is launching a development program exclusively for diverse Canadian writers in film and television. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, file)

Netflix is launching a development program for diverse Canadian writers in film and television.

The streamer’s head of global TV announced the initiative — dubbed Advancing Voices: Netflix Canada Creator Program — at the Banff World Media Festival on Tuesday.

Bela Bejaria says seven writers from underrepresented groups get paid mentorship and consultation sessions to develop their pitch and material for a potential Netflix series.

Participants will be able to work flexible and remote hours, and be paid above-average industry rates.

They include: comedian and filmmaker Bita Joudaki of CBC Gem’s “The Slowest Show;” co-creators Jabbari Weekes and Tichaona Tapambwa of CBC Gem’s “Next Stop;” actor, filmmaker, and Realwheels founding artistic director James Sanders; director Rama Rau of films “Honey Bee” and “League of Exotique Dancers;” writer and director Jeff Barnaby of “Blood Quantum;” and “Heartland” writer Adam Hussein.

The three-month program starts in July in Toronto.

Weekes and Tapambwa chronicled the lives of young Black Torontonians on their anthology series “Next Stop.” They say Advancing Voices is an opportunity to expand — in more ways than one.

“We wanted to be a part of this because we wanted to continue growing our craft,” Weekes said in an interview, noting that many of the pair’s projects have been shorter form.

“We want to tell more Black stories, more queer stories, more stories within our community. We feel to really get into the depth and the emotional range that we want, we need to continue navigating and exploring.”

The duo say they hope the program can springboard them to the next step in their career, and help them mentor the next generation of creators of colour.

Bejaria described Canada as one of Netflix’s top production centres, and “home to a wealth of talent.”

“We want to support more new and untold stories, and the training provided through this initiative will give up-and-coming local writers an invaluable opportunity to work with our content team to build their experience developing stories for global audiences,” Bejaria said Tuesday in a release.

Advancing Voices is part of Netflix’s fund for creative equity, a five-year, $100-million investment established to offer more opportunities behind the camera for young, diverse creators.

Since announced in 2021, the fund has also backed a directors program for women in partnership with the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television; imagineNative Institute’s Calling Card program, which supports female Indigenous writers; and helped expand a mentorship program in Vancouver by the group Women in Animation.

CBC announced similar efforts at the media festival on Sunday.

The CBC-BIPOC TV & Film Showrunner Catalyst is an accelerator program for senior writers who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of colour.

In partnership with advocacy organization BIPOC TV & Film and the Canadian Film Centre, the program will offer on-set experience and professional coaching, designed through an anti-racist and equity-focused lens. Its inaugural participants include Andrew Burrows-Trotman, MOTION and Ian Iqbal Rashid.

Tapambwa says programs like these are essential to giving Canada’s “world class storytellers” the platform they need, along with a wider audience.

“We can continue building on that and having new programs that show that it’s not impossible, that there is a practicality to it, in how you start filming, how you start scripting, how you’re pitching,” says Tapambwa.

“It all makes everybody better and being able to share that information with our communities is key.”

Participants were selected through an open call, while some were nominated by executives internally.

—Sadaf Ahsan, The Canadian Press

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