The Uniter Speaker Series presents Adeline Bird

The unapologetic self

Supplied photo

Currently residing in Tkaronto, Adeline Bird is an Afro-Anishinaabe storyteller creating new waves in Canada’s television and film industries.

Originally from Rolling River First Nation, Bird grew up in Winnipeg’s West End. She remembers going as a child to the Blockbuster on Young Street and Portage Avenue with her father to rent movies. As a child, accessing the beaches of Lake Winnipeg wasn’t always an option, so trips to the library and local movie stores played a foundation role in Bird’s upbringing. Accessible stories in the inner-city helped expand her paradigm, creating new worlds and dreams of other possibilities in media.

She wrote a brilliant book, Be Unapologetically You: A Self-Love Guide for Women of Color, and takes every storytelling opportunity that comes her way. When she isn’t writing television shows and dreaming up new projects, she is unapologetically challenging white supremacy in the dark and dirty corners of Canada’s television and film industry.

How did you first get involved in filmmaking?

“Well, I’m friends with Roger Boyer, and he’s been a filmmaker for a really long time. We talked about filmmaking, and I got involved in the community, started working in wardrobe and then helping people with their short films. I always had one foot in the door with the industry. Roger really encouraged me to apply for CBC New Indigenous Voices through the National Screen Institute, so I did and got it. Through that program, I wrote and directed my first short film called Nappy Hair and an Eagle Feather. After my first short film, I pitched at the imagiNATIVE Film Festival contest for APTN and won. A couple months later, I applied for the Telefilm Talent to Watch Program and ended up winning that as well.”

What are you currently working on?

“In 2020, I was asked to sit on the Visioning Committee for BIPOC TV and Film, which has been amazing. I love the solidarity in the industry between Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, it’s so meaningful and beautiful to be part of it and witness the work. Along with that work, I moved to Toronto in 2020 and have been freelancing here ever since. I’ve been able to do some work for Etalk, The Social and Sportsnet. My book sales started picking up in 2020, because of the pandemic. Everyone needed to find stuff to do at home. So I was like okay, here is an opportunity for me to move Toronto in the middle of the pandemic. I didn’t know what this was going to look like, but I knew I needed to be out here. I didn’t know how or why, but I moved out here, and honestly it has elevated my career the one year I’ve been here."

What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in Canadian film and television?

“After the murder of George Floyd, I got pulled into a lot meetings around diversity and inclusion. Everything from festivals, funders, broadcasters, and I was included in a lot of those conversations. Let me tell you, I was brought into a lot of these meetings as just a Black face. I’m in these meetings, talking about what we are navigating as a community, and they are all confused and have no idea what I’m talking about. For me, my identity is so normal, I forget there is a bigger world that doesn’t even realize we are here. It’s such a crazy ride, and I’m going to write a book about it someday. The fear that white people have of us is so real ... (I also see a lot of) manipulation and fear of Indigenous people. They are scared to get to know us. Why do they only want to get to know us in a month, like Black History Month or Indigenous History Month? A lot of the barriers are just white supremacy, how much whiteness seeps into everything. It is exhausting.”

What has filmmaking taught you about yourself?

Because I’m always going, I haven’t had time to just stop and absorb everything. But what I’ve learned is that I can go far. Some people have tried to tell me I’ve gone too far into the industry, but at the same time, another thing I’ve learned is we haven’t been given the opportunities, so how do we know what ‘too far’ looks like? Being part of the industry has opened my eyes to my own identity and my world, as well as all the other perspectives, narratives and voices that I’m still learning about. I’m still learning and being introduced to new voices all the time. It honestly liberates me. The generation coming behind me is so talented. I’m so inspired by them.”

What advice would you give someone who wants to learn and get involved in filmmaking?

“Do it. We need more Indigenous people in this industry. You don’t need to be a writer, producer or shooter! This industry has over 200 different types of jobs for everyone. We need people in hair, makeup, sound. We need you heading these departments. Think about when you are creating a set. You are building a new world. You need electricians, architects and designers. We need Native entertainment lawyers, and one day I’d love to hire all of you!”

What kind of projects do you want to work on in the future?

“Honestly, I don’t want to be doing this for a long time. I want to eventually be supporting other people ... I hope that we can get to a point where seeing ourselves on television isn’t a huge deal. It’s important and we celebrate it, but I don’t think we are there just yet. I hope we can get to a point where we can tell our stories how we want to, whether it’s people sharing their trauma or doing a comedy. Someone once asked me a question, ‘Don’t you think there is too much Indigenous comedy?’ and I was like hell no, there is not enough. To me there will never be enough. I hope we can get to a space where this is a world we are leading, running and acting in our own shows.”

Kevin Settee is a filmmaker based in Winnipeg. He is the writer and director of The Lake Winnipeg Project.

Published in Volume 76, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 27, 2022)

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