Why these Calgarians are making an Alberta-based Filipino-Canadian TV show

·3 min read
Karla Villanueva Danan, left, and Sheena Manabat, co-creators of a Filipino-Canadian TV show in development, realized when they first met that their grandmothers were close friends who lived in the same low-income seniors housing. That story will play into the TV show. (Submitted by Karla Villanueva Danan and Sheena Manabat - image credit)
Karla Villanueva Danan, left, and Sheena Manabat, co-creators of a Filipino-Canadian TV show in development, realized when they first met that their grandmothers were close friends who lived in the same low-income seniors housing. That story will play into the TV show. (Submitted by Karla Villanueva Danan and Sheena Manabat - image credit)

Two Filipinas from Calgary say they're sick of seeing how Alberta and Filipinos are depicted in popular TV sitcoms — so they decided to create their own show.

Informed by a series of 10 creative co-lab sessions to help them better understand what it means to be Filipino in Alberta, Karla Villanueva Danan and Sheena Manabat are in the process of developing a distinctly Filipino-Canadian TV show based in the province.

The project is supported by a grant from the Canada Council of the Arts.

"We wanted to get into stories of community and our Filipino families, specific to Calgary, specific to the experience in Alberta," said Danan, who grew up in Calgary and now lives in Toronto.

While the show is still in its early stages of development, the co-creators say it'll fit into the comedy space and is inspired by Jane the Virgin, Insecure and Filipino television dramas.

The importance of representation — on and off screen

Danan cites Working Moms and Young Rock as examples of shows where Calgary and Alberta aren't accurately depicted.

Through these shows, the world sees the province as a slow, blizzard-filled place with nothing to do, they say. But this isn't a good representation of how they see and know the province.

Instead, they want to see authentic, funny stories that Albertans can relate to on their screens.

"We want something set here to show those stories. To show that there are other people living here, there are racialized people living here, and having that joy. Making it something fun and showing it in a good, positive way," said Manabat.

Submitted by Sheena Manabat
Submitted by Sheena Manabat

But Danan says representation on screen isn't enough if people from those communities aren't contributing to the narrative behind the scenes.

"You can have someone on screen who looks like you, but then they might be depicted as a low-wage worker or they might be hypersexualized or they might be infantalized," said Danan.

"It's like, OK, is that really representative if that story is still being told through white producers, white executives, white directors — people who do not have the perspective coming from our community?"

The co-creators say their ultimate goal is to contribute to the transition to narrative plentitude from narrative scarcity — "the reality we've been living in for so long where no stories are about us, or the stories about us are no good," said Danan.

Challenging the narrative of not being Filipino enough

The series of 10 creative co-lab sessions, aimed at better understanding the unique perspectives of Filipino-Canadian identity, will officially launch on Nov. 10.

The co-creators say they named the series Filipino Enough based on the idea that many Filipino-Canadians have been told they aren't Filipino enough for not being born in the Philippines, not speaking the language, not eating the food and more.

The first three sessions will cover themes of what makes a Filipino, the roles Filipinos play and what it means to queer the Filipinx experience.

Frederick Fernandez, a Calgary-based musician, says he was excited to sign up for the first session to further navigate the ways he was taught that he wasn't Filipino enough.

Submitted by Frederick Fernandez
Submitted by Frederick Fernandez

He says not being able to speak Tagalog, as well as pursuing a career that doesn't fit into the expectations of being an engineer, doctor or nurse, plays into that feeling.

"I think the biggest part of this is just knowing that people feel similar. You know, it's not just a handful of us — it's more people than we think," said Fernandez.

Registration for the first three creative co-lab sessions is closed, but the last seven sessions will run into 2022.

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