By the time I turned 18, I was desperate to escape. Growing up in the blistering cold of Prairie Manitoba, my life was sheltered. My parents built a loving home, my grandparents were within walking distance and my friends, literally, lived next door. But I wanted experiences; I wanted adventure. I wanted a place where you didn’t see cows from your school’s playground.
Moving to Vancouver in 2010 was at times exhilarating and terrifying. I had decided that my business major in university was leading me to a career in accounting, and that was not where I wanted to end up. I threw caution to the wind and pursued my love of the movies at film school. I loved the freedom the city gave me. I loved having the ability to sit at a restaurant that wasn’t a Boston Pizza or a Montana’s. Malaysian food, Ethiopian food, Chinatown, film festivals and the list goes on. The world and all its people and flavours came running towards me.
It took a while for me to realize that not everyone’s Vancouver experience was like mine. Some people see a very different side of the city. Vastly diverse, Vancouver is beautiful, continually ranked among the top cities in the world, but I quickly learned of the “great divide.” A classmate of mine, the only one with a car, persuaded a group of us to check out the Downtown Eastside.
In an overstuffed Grand Am we went from shiny high-rises to dilapidated pop-up tents. It looked like a scene straight out of the movies. The open drug use, the women on the corner and the saddening statistic that First Nations are disproportionately affected by the area’s issues. I couldn’t believe that within a few blocks people were living in luxury, while their neighbours lived in squalor. Sometimes it’s a variety of things that lead to homelessness: addiction, mental health, poverty, etc. As I educated myself, I improved my understanding and empathy. I recently read Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss by local author Maggie De Vries. She opened my eyes to the multitude of issues that can lead to someone ending up on the street, far and away from the benefits of Vancouver’s diversity that I noticed early on.
Film school introduced me to artists from all over the world, which appropriately relates to the cultural diversity the film industry itself is experiencing. Both in front of and behind the camera, cinema is trying to become more related to its audience. Diverse storytellers are coming forward and creating box office winners such as Get Out, Wonder Woman and Black Panther, proving that diverse films can also lead to box office dollars. Diversity, not only in race but gender, has also come to the forefront of our industry. Women have been thrust into the spotlight during the current “Me Too” movement, which has now brought decades of sexual harassment out from behind closed doors and has shown the large wage gap between men and women on both sides of the camera. Being in a predominantly male industry, I have come face-to-face with this imbalance on many occasions, but it is important to note that I find myself with a growing sense of optimism. Day by day, I have begun to see the seeds of real change, as education and follow-through are on the rise concerning issues of diversification in the workplace.
But, like everything, Vancouver can’t be all cherry blossoms and sea walls. I’ve learned to take the good with the bad. I’ve fallen in love with this city: the tall, shiny buildings and the mountainous backdrop. I continue to educate myself on the Downtown Eastside, while appreciating all of Vancouver’s cultural gems. Maybe you can’t have it all right now, but Vancouver sure does offer a lot.