Actor-producer Jennifer Podemski pushing for ‘narrative sovereignty’

The Bruce McDonald movie Dance Me Outside was a game changer says Jennifer Podemski.

The success of the 1994 Canadian drama reinforced the idea that she could have a career in the television and film industry.

The role also opened her eyes to what is now referred to as narrative sovereignty and a recognition for the need for more Indigenous stories by Indigenous people.

“I felt angry a lot,” says Podemski. “I would show up to a set on a show and although I was so grateful to be part of a show and to be living my dream as an actor, I would look around and think ‘oh my gosh this seems to be never ending.’

“This whole thing were people hire a Native actor for a story that has a Native story line but there’s no writers, directors or crew people, or anyone in the background, even the people you’re working with on camera are non-Native, playing Native and I got tired of it.”

Rather than continue to be angry about it, Podemski decided to do something about it.

At the age of 25, Podemski, along with fellow producer Laura Milliken, launched Big Soul Productions.

In 2005, Podemski branched out on her own to start Redcloud Studios.

The list of shows Podemski has been involved in creating is impressive: Moccasin Flats, Rabbit Fall, Empire of Dirt, Future History, and The Other Side, just to name a few.

Getting to this point in her career was a struggle at first.

Podemski first got involved in acting in theatre when she was a child in school but getting her first break was difficult.

“I just expected that I would be like everybody else and be able to pursue a career in television, film, Broadway wherever it was without any barriers,” says Podemski who adds it didn’t really work out that way.

“First of all, my look doesn’t really appeal to anybody,” says Podemski who is of mixed First Nations and Israeli decent.

“When there is a Native role, I don’t really fit the typical native look that people are looking for.  So yeah, there were a lot of barriers up front.”

One of the ways Podemski is helping break down barriers for the next generation is through the launch of The Shine Network, a media platform designed to empower and celebrate Indigenous women in film and television.

“I was compelled to address the lack of representation of Indigenous women content creators in the film and television industry in Canada. There’s not just a lack of representation of Indigenous women perspectives and participation behind and in front of the camera, there is a very severe misrepresentation, when there is representation,” says Podemski.

Podemski says there is a lot to celebrate right now in the film and television industry but more than two decades into her career, she feels there is a lot of work to still do.

And much of that responsibility, according to Podemski falls to the funders and broadcasters.

“It doesn’t seem like people believe there’s an appetite for not just more Indigenous content but for more Indigenous faces on television. We still hear that a lot,” says Podemski. “I think that is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. There’s absolutely no reason why our television screens and all screens and all media we consume should not be inundated with Indigenous faces and Indigenous voices.

“There’s no reason for it and that’s the direction we should all be focused on, on going together.”

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