The Loneliness of the Canadian Artist

Wednesday Journal Entry, Week 20

Karina Lafayette – September 21st 2022

We know. There’s no place like Hollywood. Bright lights filled with even bigger aspirations. It’s the place to be if you want to make your dreams come true. Sure, there’s lots of industries happening all over the world, but only one Hollywood. And for roughly the past hundred years, they’ve done a good job at reminding everyone that no matter how good you are, you will never, ever be one of them. Unless of course you decide to swim across the pond and sign up for a work permit. Then you can at least be the next Ryan Gosling.

And once you get there, you will stop at nothing to shed your heritage, your accent, your traditions, your cultures, and anything else that goddess forbid, can remind people that you aren’t actually from there. Heck, maybe you’ll even change your name, and if you’re lucky, they’ll ask you to bleach your hair and go on a special diet so you can look and be the exact person they want you to be. For the Canadian artist who works in LA, once in a while you’ll be blessed with filming a show or movie in your hometown, but the chances of the storyline taking place on Canadian soil are slim to none.

Except here’s the irony: a good majority of your favorite shows and movies are already filmed here. In Toronto, we’re lucky enough to grace the presence of shows like Shadowhunters (one of my favorites), The Umbrella Academy, and even the beloved Handmaid’s Tale, written by fellow Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who was born in Ottawa, Ontario. And while almost the entire crew, hairstylists, makeup artists and wardrobe folks are also from Canada, for the performers, that’s another story. Aside from a few secondary roles and the occasional lead, most leading roles are given to American actors already known and loved in Hollywood. And don’t get me wrong, there are no small roles, but local talent deserves a lot more than to only be recognized when it’s convenient for ratings, they deserve to be put in front.

Every other year that the Toronto International Film Festival comes around, is yet another missed chance to put more Canadian artists in the spotlight. They have all the media attention and still, we’re made to feel like visitors in our own home. One of the main headliners this year in particular wasn’t even another Jason Reitman movie or Avan Jogia’s directorial debut Door Mouse, it was Taylor Swift. Because what the city of Toronto cares about is publicity, not the nurturing of young talent.

As someone who’s been an artist since I could walk and was old enough to hold a pen, I’ve known full well that as a Canadian, there are expectations around how I approach my career. I can either go to Hollywood to become who they want me to be, or I can stay here and work with what’s available, which in all honesty, can be very limited. The next option would be just to travel freely and work as I may, which by the look of things, seems more and more appealing everyday, because I don’t want Hollywood either. I know not everything there is what it seems. Maybe if I click my heels somewhere else, I’ll find my people.

Even when it comes to the stats on my website, most of my readers are from all over the world. Of course I’m grateful for that, but the fact that I almost never get a reader or follower from Canada, speaks volumes on how much we’re ready to support about our own. And I know there’s a lot of privilege to being Canadian, but even with all my work in film, writing, and astrology, I feel like I haven’t yet found a community. Aside from a few close friends, I still feel lonely. A difficult truth can be a fact. Luckily, I’m not an actor or a musician, which means in a way, I do have more freedom, because my image doesn’t matter to people so much. I get to control my own narrative far more, so there’s that bonus.

Overall, when you’re a Canadian artist, people here look at you as if you’re constantly in adolescence, or that your dreams are just a phase and eventually you’ll give all that up to work in real estate. You have to be your own producer, manager, timekeeper, marketing wizard, and therapist. You’re in a perpetual state of denial when it comes to financial success because face it, most of us have regular jobs, too. You put your work out there with the knowing that some people will always label it Canadian, even though the funny reality of our country is that no one knows what being Canadian is.

An open secret of being a Canadian artist is that there’s a good chance people from your hometown will never care about your work as much as the people you never meet. If you do meet them, it’s likely at a book signing, a concert, or a meet and greet, or of course, through social media. You can rest assured that some of your own relatives will be passive-aggressive, and will still occasionally ask whether your work is just a phase, even when it does slowly start to pay the bills. If lucky, you’ll grow a following on social media, but don’t expect to see a lot of familiar faces. The loneliest part is that no matter what, strangers will always cheer you on more than people you grew up with, but other artists will understand you the best.

And don’t forget the issue of language. Franco-Canadian singers like Garou are admired all over the world, in their home province of Quebec included, but don’t ask the rest of Canada. English is the music language of choice, and if they break past that barrier, it’s because they sing in both languages, like Celine Dion. While Quebec might have a complicated relationship to language, at least they uplift their artists and have their own star system. Not to mention, their government also funds indie cinema and had no issue nurturing Xavier Dolan when he was just starting out in filmmaking. Being born in Montreal, I’m probably even more familiar with Quebec singers and filmmakers than I am with artists from other provinces (except for you know, the ones who went to Hollywood), and we really can blame it on the culture. Canada is like that doubtful parent who wants their kids to succeed, but only in a career that’ll guarantee success.

Speaking of Hollywood, do you really think that Ryan Gosling, Simu Lui, James Cameron, Catherine O’Hara, Elliot Page, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Rachel McAdams, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey and Sandra Oh, would have had the success they’ve had, if they would have never left Canada? Me neither, although I wish I could say otherwise. Maybe if we were to make an effort to nurture our own, instead of expecting them to settle for Hallmark productions and the occasional tv series that does become a hit, there wouldn’t such an exile in the first place. And I don’t mean to sound bitter, but there comes a time in life where your focus turns toward what appreciates you.

Maybe, just maybe, if Canadian art got taken seriously here more often, we wouldn’t be ready to pack our bags and travel elsewhere. Because face it, artists are expansive beings, and to ask us to limit our creativity according to what a local studio expects is not only selfish, it’s a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity to shine a light on our personal stories, all because we were too busy looking elsewhere. We really have had the power all along, what a shame it would be to not use it.


If you enjoy this article, you may want to check out Say “No” to Being the Tortured Artist

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