Mini-Documentaries Tackle Big Topics of Race and Diversity

“Work for All,” is a collection of 11 mini-documentaries (each running between approximately 3-15 minutes). Produced by the National Film Board of Canada and with the participation of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the examines topics of racism and diversity in the workplace through multiple lenses.

All of the films are available for viewing online; below, we review two of the eleven films: Making It and Hanging On.

Making It

In the late 80s, sociologist and youth worker Carl E. James interviewed sixty young black people about their career goals and concerns and published the results in his book, Making It: Black Youth, Racism and Carer Aspirations in a Big City. The mini-documentary Making It shows James reuniting with those he interviewed — now in their 40s — to see how their lives turned out.

Interviewees, many of whom found successful careers, reported feeling like they had to “work twice as hard to get half as far,” and that being “just as good” as their colleagues was not good enough. They felt colleagues viewed them as representatives for their race, and consequently worked harder and put in more hours to avoid any negative perceptions. Those individuals who advanced to higher positions within their companies still found their actions scrutinized — for instance, when one man working in the tool-making industry proposed hiring an individual who also happened to be black, colleagues suggested the two might be related or that he was showing favoritism based on the color of the applicant’s skin.

Interviewees concluded that, while these challenges personally motivated them to prove others wrong and contributed to their success, it is both unjust and hard to expect today’s youth to think that way.

Hanging On

Hanging On by Chedly Belkhodja, National Film Board of Canada

Hanging On addresses the challenges that immigrants face accessing opportunities and advancing within another country’s workforce, focusing on the town of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada.

Despite multiple degrees and good qualifications, the individuals interviewed for the documentary faced challenges getting hired in the industry they trained for. One woman, for instance, received no responses to job applications when she used her Moroccan last name. When she applied using her Canadian husband’s last name, however, she received several interview invitations. Once employers met her in person and saw that she was Moroccan, she never head back from them.

For these individuals, and many in their shoes,  working in a call center is their only job option. “Our aptitudes are of no value. We’re only there to execute defined tasks,” one interviewee remarked, citing that she could not demonstrate her skills and training within the limits of repetitive work. When she applied for a promotion within the company, she was told that customers would prefer a native English speaker — even though the individual selected did not have the required skill set and needed to be extensively trained.

Interviewees’ outlooks remained grim at the end of the documentary, noting that they felt employers would continue to say that they are overqualified, or discriminate against them based on the color of their skin. They argued that most employers give lip service to diversity, but are not truly committing to creating equitable access for immigrants.