Shivani Saini lives and works in Alberta as a producer and consultant in the media industry. It’s where she’s done most of her work. It’s where she’s from. The idea of Creatives Empowered, which she founded, came to her last year following reflections of her 25-plus years of professional experiences that were both empowering and disempowering.
Creatives Empowered, which launched on Nov. 16, is a collective of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) and allied artists and creatives. They aim to provide a safe and supportive community, advocating for and providing professional opportunities to BIPOC creatives in Alberta.
“Throughout my career, I have found that I’ve often been one of the few visible minorities or one of the few racialized people in a company, on a set, on-air, or at a boardroom table.”
“I never had access to an organization like this in my formative years,” Saini said. “Creatives Empowered is a way for me to give back to the community and to also connect with other professionals.”
She’s had many conversations with colleagues and other creatives about how systemic discrimination and racism is a reality and a part of all racialized peoples’ lives.
“Although there is quite a bit of racialized talent in Alberta the opportunities for that racialized talent, just have never really, truly been equitable.”
In part, Saini’s inspiration came from working as a consultant for Reelworld Film Festival and Screen Institute, founded by Tonya Williams, one of Canada’s first big-time Black actresses.
Reelworld is Canada’s largest platform dedicated to changing the face of the media industry. They have plans to collaborate with Creatives Empowered in the future.
“We have to start controlling our own narrative,” said Williams.
“It means you should ask a lot of questions. You shouldn’t just perpetuate the stereotypes that are already out there. You should be challenging those stereotypes and coming up with other language and other explanations, which may be wrong too, but at least they’d be different, and they’ll spark a conversation, and I think that’s what Shivani is trying to do.”
Saini says 2020 brought with it a racial awareness we didn’t have before COVID-19. It has opened up communication about how pervasive racism is and what we need to do to combat it.
“We really used to start creating the change that’s needed to create a truly equitable media landscape, but also just an equitable landscape period, that reflects the society we live in, that reflects the population that occupy and share this land together.”
Saini says her Alberta peers are ready and motivated to join the collective.
“Just within one week of our official public launch, we already have a very strong membership base that is growing on a daily basis.”
But as much as she’s proud and ready to provide a safe, encouraging and creative space for racialized artists, this is the first organization of its kind in Alberta—and it’s 2020.
“Even today, in a lot of those production environments, racialized artists and creatives are still going to be in the minority, and that isn’t just here in Alberta, that is across the country.”
Williams said although Toronto has much larger Black, South Asian and Middle Eastern populations, the media industry still does not reflect this.
Williams said, for the media industry to become more equitable, people in privileged positions will have to move over and not get that space, space they don’t want to lose.
“So you just keep to the path, and you keep pushing forward,” she said. “And people will always push back, and the push back is usually out of fear. I mean, you are actually asking for space where none was provided for you.”
But the question is, is Alberta ready? If you look at some of the public responses from the Pink Flamingo mural project in the summer, you’ll see why it caused many to wonder.
“Is the racialized community ready for change? Absolutely,” said Saini. “Is our larger society ready? Great question. I think that, realistically, we know that there are allies out there who’re more than ready to do what they can to support this kind of change. But I think it’s clear that there are also probably quite a few folks that either don’t understand the issue, that doesn’t understand the impact that systemic racism has on racialized beings.”
Saini said she’s doing this word because she’s tired and ready for change.
“Am I ready? Oh hell yeah. That’s a hard yes. I am so ready. And the reason why is because I am at a point where I no longer want to be having experiences as a professional in which I’m being discriminated against, in which I’m being subjected to racial and unconscious bias. And in which I’m being tokenized.”