Want to test your cultural know-how? Which of these films or TV shows is Canadian: Deadpool 2, the superhero blockbuster shot in Vancouver, starring, co-written and produced by the city’s own Ryan Reynolds; Handmaid’s Tale, the acclaimed adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian bestseller, which is shot in and around Hamilton and Toronto, and includes scenes set in Toronto; the Vancouver-shot 50 Shades of Grey; or Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh, who was born in Nepean, Ont., and trained at Montreal’s National Theatre School?
Okay, it’s a trick question. That’s because none of them is Canadian.
And also – according to a new ad campaign from some of the industry’s major players – they all are!
For decades, the stuff on our TVs and movie screens has been subjected to a strict set of parameters to determine whether it qualifies as officially Canadian, for the purposes of funding and broadcasting quotas. Broadly speaking, here’s how it works: Is the director a Canadian citizen? That scores you two out of 10 possible points. A Canadian screenwriter gets you another two. Canadians cast as the first and second lead performers are each worth one. So is the production designer, the director of photography, the music composer and the picture editor.
If you earn six out of 10, congratulations! As far as the relevant regulatory bodies are concerned, your project is as Canadian as Tim Hortons! (Which, come to think of it, is majority-owned by a Brazilian investment firm, so maybe it’s more!)
But none of Deadpool, Handmaid’s, 50 Shades or Killing Eve would qualify.
To many people, Cancon conjures up images of unbearably earnest, unwatchable art house fare – or cheap schlock. So, some of the biggest players in the domestic film and TV industry are engaging in a canny bit of metaphysics-as-rebranding. Don’t like Canadian movies and TV shows? What if they were to take those movies and TV shows you do like and – er, call them Canadian?! Now you like Canadian movies and TV shows, right?
Launched on Sunday evening during CTV’s pre-Oscars red carpet show, the ad campaign known as MADE/NOUS aims to celebrate the Canadian creators and companies behind content, games and virtual reality. It comprises TV spots, social-media posts and a website with a map of Canada featuring hundreds of locations from films and TV shows, as well as the hometowns of Canadian talent.
The 60-second TV spot includes scenes from Stranger Things, Schitt’s Creek, The Shape of Water, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, Letterkenny, Killing Eve and others, as a Christopher Plummer voice-over declares: “This is Canadian content, and it’s time we took credit for it. Starting now.”
But, c’mon: The only thing Canadian about Stranger Things is actor Finn Wolfhard, who plays the lovestruck Mike Wheeler. Killing Eve was created for BBC America by the brilliant British actor-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
It’s all the more head-scratching because, along with broadcasters CTV, Bell and Corus, the campaign is being spearheaded by the Canada Media Fund, the government- and cable-supported funder whose mandate restricts it to backing projects that earn 10 out of 10 Cancon points.
Valerie Creighton, the CMF’s president and CEO, said she saw nothing wrong with that. “This isn’t about, ‘Is it 10 out of 10 or not?’” she told me in an interview. “This is kind of what Australia does. They’re very proud of their talent. Nicole Kidman is an Australian actress. She lives in L.A., works all over the world. Talent is universal. There are no borders to great stories, great ideas, great content, great talent. So we’re celebrating that.
“We’re waving the flag for the success of the talent and content that the country has produced. Period. End of discussion.”
It’s great to celebrate homegrown talent. That inspires the next generation, and may make us more likely to seek out genuinely Canadian content that helps us grapple with our own distinct challenges as a country.
Still, it’s worth noting that this effort comes as the broadcasting sector, under rising pressure from foreign streaming services and other disruptions, is under review by the federal government. For years, broadcasters have lobbied to reduce their Cancon obligations and producers have sought a loosening of the rules that limit funding to only movies and TV shows that qualify as Canadian. But if we reclassify everything shot in this country as Cancon, the label will become meaningless.
I mean, sure, it would be nice to claim credit for some glitzy blockbusters. But if they aren’t really ours, what’s the point?