A quiet storm is brewing in Toronto's film industry
Updated: May 8, 2019
How two black women filmmakers are building an empire, one story at a time.
When Alison Duke and Ngardy Conteh George started their production company, Oya Media Group Inc. (OMG), in June 2018, the decision was made out of convenience. But, today, their quaint open-concept office, posted directly across the historic Wrigley building in the heart of Leslieville, is home to a dynamic team of accomplished women filmmakers and serves as an incubator for emerging black creatives.
When Duke and George worked together on the set of Dudley Speaks for Me in 2016, a short documentary in a series about black Canadian leaders, the chemistry was instant. It’s what Duke describes as a “synergy” between the two filmmakers, personified by their passion for documentary film, complimentary temperament, and intersecting values: mentorship, authenticity, and progress. Both felt the need to create opportunities for the next generation of filmmakers and give a platform to people from vulnerable communities to tell their own stories all while maintaining a competitive edge.
Alongside a strong work ethic, business savvy, and practiced storytelling, their values contributed to a steady creative and business rapport, forcing them to question why they hadn’t merged companies yet.
With several decades of experience working as freelance directors, producers, and editors on commercial and big-budget films, Duke and George understand the lonely experience of trying to connect and work with both black and non-black women filmmakers in the professional film industry.
Although great strides have been made to help women gain access to employment in the TV and film industry, the number of women compared to men is significantly lower. A research review on The status of women in the Canadian Arts and Cultural Industry by The Ontario Arts Council found of the 30 Ontario-based feature films funded by Telefilm Canada in 2013-14, women held only 12% of the directing roles, 15% of screenwriter roles, and 7% of cinematography positions. And when the statistics are narrowed down to race, the numbers simply don’t exist.
But the scarcity of black filmmakers working in professional film settings is what Duke and George are slowly trying to dismantle at OMG.
Since 2016, Duke and George have managed to strike partnerships with Black Youth Pathway to Industry – an industry-led initiative that is geared towards providing mentorship and employment opportunities for youth in the media industry – while hiring both women and LGBTQ creatives. When asked about their opinion on Regina King’s promise to employ a crew of at least 50 percent women in her film productions, Duke tells me it’s something Oya does every day. “ We have to do this. To survive in this industry, you have to work with people you can rely on, who understand and support your vision.”
And this philosophy has taken them far; OMG's first documentary, Mr. Jane and Finch, had its world television premiere on CBCDocsPOV – February 22nd at 9 pm. It will be the first time OMG’s work will be shown to the public, says Duke, “That for me represents hard work, building great relationships in the industry and a lot of years of experience.”
The response OMG has gotten from peers and community members is a reminder that the company is filling in a much-needed space and should continue to push the envelope on topics of social justice and equality in the African Diaspora, says George. “It’s about excellence, collaboration, and lifting each other up.”