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Film industry in general needs more diversity: Toronto Black Film Festival founder

As Toronto gets ready to host the fourth annual Black Film Festival, founder calls for more diversity on screen

Filmmaker Spike Lee is among those threatening to boycott the Oscars based on a lack of diversity in nominations.

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Filmmaker Spike Lee is among those threatening to boycott the Oscars based on a lack of diversity in nominations.

It may not be the academy that’s to blame for the #OscarsSoWhite uproar.

Issues of diversity – or lack thereof – run much deeper in cinema than a single awards show, said Fabienne Colas, founder of the Toronto Black Film Festival.

“We’ve been whispering and screaming about it for far too long and our voices were never heard,” she said about harsh criticism the academy is facing following the latest Oscars nominations.

Colas said she shares the “frustration” black actors and other people of colour feel. But, the solution needs to come from film producers, directors and even those that provide financial backing for projects, she said.

Simply doling out more award nominations to minorities won’t bring consistent change.

The success noted in 2014 with 12 Years a Slave — the first film written by black person to earn the Best Picture nod — didn’t even “change the narrative,” Colas said.

Here’s her solution: “Give lead roles to people of colour and you’ll be bringing diversity into movies.”

As for the academy, it’s “notorious” for missing out on notable films and performances and nominations should be taken for what they’re worth — a grain of salt, said Bart Testa, senior lecturer of cinema studies at the University of Toronto.

Nominations are made by a constituency of Hollywood professionals who are often “pretty damn old,” he said.

“They don’t know what each other is doing. It’s not as if there’s an actual political process,” he said. “The awards are just fine the way the are. Just don’t take them too seriously.”

The fourth annual Toronto Black Film Festival runs Feb. 10-14, coinciding with Black History Month. It showcases feature films, documentaries and shorts that explore black experiences from around the world.

2016 Toronto Black Film Festival lineup highlights

Thina Sobalili (a film about the struggles of two South African teenage siblings), Soul On Ice (documentary about black athletes in hockey), Breathe The Umphefumlo (a musical chronicling young Bohemian students from Paris to a South African shantytown).

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