The New Racism is to Deny that Racism Exists -

ONTARIO ARTS COUNCIL Denies Accusations of Systemic Black Racism and Bias

When you do not acknowledge and you do nothing, you are complicit in racism. And having the option to do nothing is a privilege.

Click HERE to read Ms. Vesley's, CEO response to original letter. Sent on April 14, 2021.

Click HERE to read my response to Ms. Vesley's letter. Sent on April 20, 2021.

Original letter to OAC sent on April 7, 2021:

Let's End Systemic Black Racism at the

Ontario Arts Council

My name is Ryan Orizabal, and I am an award-winning writer, director and film producer from Toronto, Ontario. Over the past few years, I have been working on developing independent short films, trying to build up my experience as much as I can with documentaries, feature films and short films. So far, I have written, produced, and directed two short films: “Huntsmen” (2017), “Say No More” (2020) and my latest release is “Storage Room” (2021).

Ontario Art Council offers grants to upcoming movie directors and other media artists through a programme called Media Arts Creation Projects. Having heard about this, I took the opportunity to apply for a grant to fund my short film "Storage Room".

I made an application for the first time in 2017, but regrettably, my application was rejected.

I reapplied in 2018, 2019 and April and October of 2020 and each time my application was unsuccessful. With each resubmitted application, I endeavoured to meet the requirements by carefully considering all the changes that I might need to make for my project to be recognised. For my April 2020 grant application, I was so eager to receive financial support that I made and included a three-and-a-half-minute preview of my movie “Storage Room.” I even solicited advice and support from a professional grant writing company. However, this effort did not make a difference to the decision of the judging panel.

After receiving a notification letter of rejection for my April 2020 grant application, I took the opportunity offered in the notification letter to book a phone appointment to speak with Mark Haslam, Media Arts Officer at the Ontario Arts Council (OAC), to discuss my April 2020 application and how it was assessed.  I requested his advice and feedback as to why my April 2020 grant application was rejected and what was preventing my applications from making it to the discussion round after repeated submissions.  

Unfortunately, my phone conversation with Mr. Haslam was hasty and futile due to a lack of concrete answers on his part. According to Mr. Haslam, he has 15 years of experience looking at these applications, and “there wasn’t anything that (he) found where (I) missed answering the question, or there wasn’t any part of the application that was incomplete.” He further informed me that he does not have any feedback from the jury [media artists] because based on their initial set of scores, my application did not make it into the discussion round.

After my conversation with Mr. Haslam, I made slight changes to my budget and resubmitted my grant application for the October 2020 deadline. Needless to say; this application was rejected.

Unfortunately, I was unable to compare my grant applications to the applications of the grant winners, so as a means of finding a solution to the disapproval of the quality and standard of my grant application by OAC, I watched some of the grant winners’ short films and I compared their films to my previous works, including my “Storage Room” preview.  I wanted to pinpoint how I may improve, but I saw no difference between their films and mine.

To further confirm my strong suspicion of racism within the OAC judging panel, I researched the names on the list of successful grant recipients, I observed that my colleagues and counterparts who are of a different skin colour received grants after the first time of making applications. I further noticed that a 2017 white grant juror won a grant in October 2018; and a white recipient won a grant in both April and October 2019, despite the rule (according to Emily Jeffers at OAC) being grant applications may only be submitted every other deadline. OAC’s grant recipient lists display a lack of racial diversity (most are always white), and the exclusion of black recipients is painfully apparent.

I emphatically believe that the criteria for receiving a grant are solely based on skin colour and that the rejection of my grant applications by the Ontario Arts Council has nothing to do with the standard and quality of my grant applications and film preview. 

I wholeheartedly believe that OAC is embroiled in systemic black racism. According to Mr. Haslam, the judging panel changes with each deadline, yet the judges on the panels are always predominantly white. They are promoting the superiority of their race and demonstrating white privilege by intentionally undermining the standard of my applications and almost certainly those of other black filmmakers.

At this point, I am urging the Canadian community, the worldwide community, the media (including social media); and anti-racism organizations and activists to bring to awareness the systemic inequality and racism in the Arts and Media industry particularly, in OAC. I unequivocally believe talking about this inequality will lead to positive changes.

OAC’s blatant racism is negatively affecting me, my future, and the black community in Canada. On behalf of other black filmmakers and my mother who is actively job hunting and encountering brazen systemic racism, I am campaigning against racial discrimination and the complacency of injustice within our society. 

I am including a link to the preview of my film "Storage Room" here. This will enable you to make a subjective assessment of the situation at hand.

I hope this will bring a positive change in our society as we cannot continue to live in a world where one race has more advantages and privileges than the other. Racism and white privilege must end now. There should be fairness and equality in all societies so that everyone can achieve and get what they deserve according to the work of their hands. 

Join the fight to stop anti-black racism and put an end to the OAC judging panel’s white privilege behaviour. When racism becomes a tradition, everyone must rise as the destroyer of that tradition by discussing and reporting such matters through social media, or the media. I am optimistic and hopeful that a positive impact from you will be forthcoming.

“To ignore black racism is to become an accomplice to it.”

Ryan Orizabal
Writer, Director and Film Producer
Films in the Making