A social media post by the Hallmark Channel in support of the Black Lives Matter movement has a triggered growing backlash from members of Vancouver’s film industry.
Many are calling the message “hypocritical” amidst allegations the company’s productions suffer from a lack of diversity.
“We stand with you in the fight against racism and injustice,” the Hallmark Channel wrote. “And we believe we must all care enough to do better.”
Local casting director Kris Woznesensky tweeted back, “Last time we worked for them no interracial couples were allowed? Why?”
“Also, why did the creative notes for black actors to be ‘less hood’? Do better.” He added.
This is not the first time the media empire – known for its movies of the week and Christmas films – has been accused of not allowing interracial couples to be captured on film.
In September of 2018, Lesley Horat alleged she was left out of a scene because the casting wrangler said there was a policy against interracial couples being represented on screen.
“I guess from optics it just didn’t look right because he is fairer than I am,” Horat told Global News about the pairing with a friend on set in 2018.
“So we were kind of set off to the side,” she added.
Yogi Omar, Co-Owner of InspirationALL Talent Agency, first spoke to Global News on condition of anonymity in 2018. He is now going public — at what might be great risk to his professional career — because he said little has changed in nearly two years.
“A lot of my clients don’t want to work TV movies or for Hallmark anymore,” he said.
Omar said the first Global News report did shake up the industry, but said any changes were just token gestures and what was reflected on paper did not match what happened on set.
“Casting will just take them and when they get to set these extra three people, four extra people, they just get pushed to the side. They just get pushed to the back. They’re just not visible,” he explained.
When Global News contacted Crown Media, Hallmark’s parent company, a representative sent the exact same statement from 2018.
The company insists all local third-party vendors are given clear directions on Hallmark’s expectations on set.
“Programs and their characters should reflect the wide diversity of our audience, keeping in mind the importance of dignity to every human being,” the statement read.
When asked about the results of Crown Media’s promise to follow-up with its vendors in 2018, a company spokesperson replied:
“We could not corroborate the information with the Executive Producer, Director, or other personnel on set. Crown Media Family Networks continues to provide our production companies with written guidance on our hiring policies.”
Omar argued that within the Vancouver film industry there are unwritten rules that must be followed in order to sell content to certain companies.
“They’ll never say there’s no interracial couples in their policies but they’re just not going to buy it,” he explained.
Nina Colman, a showrunner, said she had met with Hallmark about purchasing the rights to her series “Date With Dad” after it was cancelled by the UPtv network.
“Hallmark was one of the interested parties. They said they would not have an interracial couple on a show. So I don’t know if they were going to actually pick us up, but that was a pass from me,” Colman told Global News.
Joel McCarthy, a local filmmaker, said systemic racism and sexism is a problem with several local movie-of-the-week (MOW) productions. He said few are willing to speak out because it accounts for around 30 to 40 per cent of the industry work in Vancouver.
“These movies are all pretty formulaic and the formula is exclusion to a certain extent,” McCarthy said.
This month, McCarthy said he had meeting with a major MOW production executive about an opportunity to write a script.
“The executive I was talking to slipped in (that) the buyers don’t like openly-gay couples or interracial couples. And I was kind of just shocked it was said so blatantly,” he said.
McCarthy said the local executive expressed remorse and insisted the local company was progressive but it was a matter of making a product that would actually sell.
“I think it’s a dirty open secret,” McCarthy added.
Most of the people who spoke to Global News expressed fear that speaking out would have an impact on their business and worried about facing repercussions within an extremely insular industry.
“I might be losing my job and Hallmark may never hire anybody from my agency ever again,” said Omar.
“At this point I’m just done, I don’t care about what’s going to happen anymore. I believe that I’m doing the right thing,” he added.
These whistleblowers said with productions on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic, any kind of restart should begin with the end of what they believe is systemic racism with Vancouver’s local film industry.