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Amar Wala: “BIPOC audiences deserve to see themselves on-screen”

…Well firstly, it’s the right thing to do. Let’s start there. Entertainment has a profound impact on our sense of self-worth and racialized people have not been given an opportunity to see ourselves on screen in an equitable way. That’s a cultural wrong that we should right. BIPOC audiences deserve to see themselves on-screen. Secondly, […]


…Well firstly, it’s the right thing to do. Let’s start there. Entertainment has a profound impact on our sense of self-worth and racialized people have not been given an opportunity to see ourselves on screen in an equitable way. That’s a cultural wrong that we should right. BIPOC audiences deserve to see themselves on-screen.

Secondly, equity on screen makes money. There is ample data to suggest work that is made by and for the BIPOC community is a money-maker. Just look at the cultural impact of Moonlight, The Farewell, Never Have I Ever, etc. So, the industry’s built-in racism is costing it money. If you won’t do it because it’s right, do it because it’s a good business move.

Lastly, the film/television industry has been built on toxic cultural practices for a long time. Misogyny, racism, and labour exploitation have been the norm for decades. Bringing in new creators and new perspectives in leadership will not only change the content, it will change the way we make the content. Sets will become less toxic, the work will become less exploitative, and the resulting content will be better.


As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Amar Wala.

Filmmaker Amar Wala was born in Mumbai but makes his home in Toronto. His debut feature, The Secret Trial 5 (2014), established him as a daring new voice in Canadian cinema. The film was recently named one of the Top Ten Canadian Documentaries of the Decade by RealScreen Magazine. He has directed series for CBC, Viceland, and Shopify Studios. Amar is currently Director and Consulting Producer on CBC’s acclaimed arts series IN THE MAKING.

Often using new modes of fundraising and community engagement for audience-building, Amar is also leading a new generation of dynamic young producers in Canada. His company Scarborough Pictures makes award-winning content that explores complex themes through warmth, humour, and artistry. Scarborough Pictures is a champion of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) voices in cinema and tells stories that expose injustice, connect histories, and build community. In 2019, he and his company launched an episodic-directing program for BIPOC filmmakers in partnership with the CBC.

Amar received the 2018 Vanguard Award from the Documentary Organization of Canada and was named a “Local Film Hero” of 2019 by Now Magazine. His latest film, the scripted short SHOOK, recently premiered at Reel Asian and is currently in development as a feature with Telefilm Canada.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in India and came to Canada at 11 with my family. My family struggled quite a bit in Canada, despite my parents being quite privileged. I think those first few years in Canada defined the type of adult I would become.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was always in love with movies. I was an obsessive movie-watcher as a kid, and I decided early on it was what I wanted to do. As I got older, I became more politically aware and my work became more political as a result. I entered film school about a year after 9/11. It was not a good time for brown people, and I think the emotions of that era really informed the subjects of my student films.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My first film, a short called The Good Son, premiered in Dubai. They flew me out there and the plane ticket cost more than my whole movie’s budget.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My first feature was a documentary about the wrongful imprisonment of Muslims in Canada, who were held without charge for years in a Guantanamo Bay-type limbo. Very few people know Canada did this. My mistake was thinking the Canadian broadcast system would fund this film. In hindsight, I was pretty naive. When I pitched them, they basically accused me of being a terrorist sympathizer.

It doesn’t sound funny, but looking back now I can laugh at how much I didn’t know.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m very excited about a web series I’m producing, called Next Stop. The creators are young people of colour from Toronto, and the show is a funny and honest look at the lives of young Black people trying to navigate the city. Toronto is a diverse place but we rarely see honest representations of the BIPOC experience in our film/television scene, so I’m really grateful to be a part of this show.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Well firstly, it’s the right thing to do. Let’s start there. Entertainment has a profound impact on our sense of self-worth and racialized people have not been given an opportunity to see ourselves on screen in an equitable way. That’s a cultural wrong that we should right. BIPOC audiences deserve to see themselves on-screen.

Secondly, equity on screen makes money. There is ample data to suggest work that is made by and for the BIPOC community is a money-maker. Just look at the cultural impact of Moonlight, The Farewell, Never Have I Ever, etc. So, the industry’s built-in racism is costing it money. If you won’t do it because it’s right, do it because it’s a good business move.

Lastly, the film/television industry has been built on toxic cultural practices for a long time. Misogyny, racism, and labour exploitation have been the norm for decades. Bringing in new creators and new perspectives in leadership will not only change the content, it will change the way we make the content. Sets will become less toxic, the work will become less exploitative, and the resulting content will be better.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You will face obstacles because you are a person of colour.
  2. Trust your creative instincts when you face creative differences with mentors.
  3. Scripted work opens more doors than documentary.
  4. Do not worry if you don’t get accepted to certain festivals, it doesn’t mean your film is bad.
  5. Find collaborators who share your politics, not just your aesthetics.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Have a side gig. I was a server for many years while making my first film, and it kept me stable enough financially to keep going.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would create a UBI (Universal Basic Income). I think a lot of creative people are kept from creating incredible things because of financial hardship and barriers to access. We need to create a social baseline beneath which no person can fall. Imagine all the amazing things we’ll create if we know there’s a roof over our head and food on the table no matter what.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My friend Noah Bingham, who produced my first film, stuck with me for five years before we finally finished it. As the director I get a lot of the credit for the success of that film, but it’s as much his as it is mine.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t do quotes. Honestly none of those platitudes are really going to help you.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ava Duvernay. My hope is that my company Scarborough Pictures can become a hub for racialized artists, much in the way her company Array has.

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter: @amarwala

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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