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Most Powerful Women in Canadian Entertainment

Most Powerful Women in Canadian Entertainment

Here in the USA, we tend to cling to certain stereotypes about our Canadian neighbors. That they’re exceptionally polite. That they’re obsessed with ice hockey. That they say the word “eh” a lot. Some of that may even be true. But there’s one cliché aboot — um, about — the Great White North that turns out to be demonstrably false: The place is much more diverse than you might think. 

That’s one of the reasons THR has put together its first list of Canada’s most powerful women in entertainment, to showcase not just the female talent running TV and film sets across the border, but to celebrate the rainbow of identities that make up Canada’s film, TV and music industries. On these pages you’ll find Korean Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians, Canadians of Mohawk descent, even a First Nation Canadian who’s half-Jewish. What they all have in common, though, is a singular determination to give their country its own distinct culture and to share that culture — politely, of course, always politely — with the world.

Neishaw Ali

CEO, Exec producer, Spin VFX

Neishaw’s been making stuff blow up on both the big and small screens for 30 years, overseeing visual effects on some 150 films (like Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp) as well as 32 TV series (including HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy). 

My entry-level industry job PA. “I was bringing coffee for our GM one day and doing booking the next. I was a PA, accountant, receptionist, office administrator — I was a jack-of-all-trades, which has served me so well.”

Annie Bradley

Chair, Directors Guild of Canada, Ontario

As a filmmaker, she’s helmed originals for Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, CBS, CBC, Discovery, BBC, Channel Four and Hallmark. But as the director of Ontario’s directors guild, her job these days is to boost working opportunities for Canadian auteurs and local crews on Hollywood productions that shoot in Ontario.

My entry-level industry job PA on film and TV sets. “I once had to get a director’s chair for the director’s stuffed animal.”

Tassie Cameron

Screenwriter, Producer

The Ottawa-born scribe — daughter of Canadian investigative journalist Stevie Cameron — started her career as a story editor and writer on MTV Canada. She’s since gone on to run TV shows like Flashpoint and Rookie Blue and has another hit with the new Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent.

What I’m watching to unwind Love Island, Love Is Blind, The Golden Bachelor. I have no idea why these shows have become my secret hideaway, so I’m going to blame the pandemic. Never watched them before COVID, but now I’m hooked.”

Alessia Cara

Singer, Songwriter

The first Canadian-born singer to win best new artist at the Grammys — for her 2016 hit “How Far I’ll Go,” from Disney’s Moana — began her career at 13 by posting videos of herself belting out covers of songs like “Love Yourself” and “Sweater Weather” on YouTube. Within a few years, she had a contract with Def Jam Recordings and was touring North America as an opener for Coldplay. 

Valerie Creighton

President and CEO, Canada Media Fund

The head of Canada Media Fund, a key public-private financier of Canadian-grown TV exports to the United States, lives in rural Saskatchewan, where, between bankrolling series like Schitt’s Creek and Orphan Black, she operates her own horse ranch.

Ritual that keeps me on track “Spending time with my horses. They teach you about yourself and where your energy is.”

Tracey Deer

Director

An accomplished director of documentaries (Club Native) and series (Mohawk Girls), she released her first dramatic feature in 2021: Beans, a coming-of-age story set against the true events of the 1990 Oka Crisis, a violent land dispute between the Mohawk people and the town of Oka, an event that Deer lived through as a child. 

My entry-level industry job PA in a newsroom. “I had to cold-call people from a phone book to track down sources for tragic news events.”

Michela Di Mondo

Executive vp international, Fremantle Canada

Running the Canadian outpost for the London-based production and distribution company, Di Mondo has been fundamental in translating some of Fremantle’s most successful franchises for local consumption — Canada’s Got Talent, Farming for Love and Family Feud Canada among them.

What I’m watching to unwind “Every single baking show. It’s easy watching and an inspiration to try the recipes at home.”

Jennifer Dodge

President, Spin Master Entertainment

She holds the leash on PAW Patrol, the wildly successful cartoon franchise, which now counts 200 episodes (on Nickelodeon), as well as two big-screen animated movies, with a third on the way. Not bad for someone who started her career in craft services.

Advice for young women entering the biz “Don’t doubt yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

Sophie Dupuis

Director

This Quebec auteur began her career with a series of short films before her first full-length feature, Chien de Garde (Family First), was picked to represent Canada at the 2018 Oscars. Her latest feature, 2023’s Solo, is set in Montreal’s drag community.

Advice for young women entering the biz “Follow your gut. If your project is good, intelligent people will get behind it. Find them.” 

Prem Gill

CEO, Creative BC

Gill’s job, which she’s held since 2015, is to sell Hollywood on British Columbia, luring U.S. productions and talent to Canada’s westernmost province, where the local film community (employing some 90,000 workers) is still recovering from the pandemic, not to mention last year’s SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, which affected Canadian production. 

What I’m watching to unwind “Spy-related content, with a focus on political intrigue rather than on action.”

Danis Goulet

Director

Reservation Dogs director Goulet had a breakout hit with Night Raiders, an Indigenous sci-fi thriller executive produced by Taika Waititi. The future-set Berlin title flipped the genre to critique Canada’s subjugation of its First Nation peoples.

The industry’s most troubling trend “The threat of AI to replace the jobs and creativity of people.”

Magda Grace

Head of Prime Video for Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Grace, whose previous gigs include stints at Starz and ICM Partners, oversees Amazon’s content development and expansion in Canada. Her latest project is designed to appeal to local tastes: a deal for Prime Video to carry regular-season Monday night NHL games in Canada for the next two seasons.

The industry’s most troubling trend “Slowness to innovate. Consumption habits are changing, and the industry needs to operate with a customer-first mindset in order to evolve with them.”

Jocelyn Hamilton

President, television, eOne Canada

Hamilton leads Canadian operations for eOne’s TV business. Her executive producer credits include scripted series like Cardinal for Hulu/CTV, Mary Kills People for Hulu/Global, Moonshine for CBC/The CW, Burden of Truth for The CW/CBC and Nurses for Global/NBC.

The industry’s most troubling trend “Lower episodic orders. When there was an order for 18 to 22 episodes, it allowed for a fan base to become immersed in a show and for producers to build proper production companies and sustain a business.”

Jennifer Holness

Writer, producer, director

Holness is equally proficient at making documentaries (Subjects of Desire, BLK: An Origin Series) and dramas (Shoot the Messenger, Guns, 40 Acres). She’s now co-directing a feature doc titled WhileBlack and continues her efforts for greater diversity in Canada’s film industry with her work as co-founder of the Black Screen Office and as co-chair of the Canadian Independent Screen Fund.

The industry’s most troubling trend “Contraction of our industry. Whatever is happening right now, stop.”

Susan Hummel

Executive vice president & managing director, Canada Distribution and Ventures, Lionsgate

After stints at Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, 20th Century Fox Studios, Fremantle and MGM’s Canadian office, in 2017 Hummel joined Lionsgate, where she’s been selling the locals on the studio’s more than 20,000-title film and TV library.

Canadian movie or TV show I most wish I’d madeMeatballs [the 1979 Bill Murray comedy that filmed largely in Canada]. All my summers were spent at camp in northern Ontario.”

Monika Ille

CEO, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

In the four years since Ille was named CEO of APTN — the world’s first national Indigenous broadcaster — she’s helped it take big creative and commercial swings, including a recent deal with Netflix and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to produce a homegrown comedy called North of North, to be shot in Nunavut, Canada’s Arctic region.

My entry-level industry job “The CBC/Radio-Canada audience services line in Montreal, answering inquiries related to programming.”

Devery Jacobs

Actor, producer

Jacobs is one of the most successful actors to come from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, and certainly the most visible, with turns on FX/Hulu’s Reservation Dogs, Marvel’s Echo and last year’s Backspot (alongside exec producer Elliot Page). She also voiced the character Kahhori — Marvel’s first Indigenous Mohawk superhero — on the studio’s animated series What If …?

The industry’s most troubling trend “Streamers and theaters exclusively showing projects backed by major studios. There is a palpable appetite for independent film, but when movies with A-list celebrities are the only ones being prioritized, audiences’ access to forward-thinking art will become nonexistent.”

Christina Jennings

Chairman & president, Shaftesbury Films

Since Jennings founded this Toronto-based film company 35 years ago, it’s produced 17 seasons of the period drama Murdoch Mysteries, six seasons of the procedural Hudson & Rex and five seasons of the horror anthology series Slasher

How to improve equality and diversity within the Canadian industry “More training. Given there are fewer shows being made with fewer episodes, there are not a lot of opportunities for on-the-job training.”

Katrina Kowalski

Senior vp, content strategy & acquisitions, Pluto TV

The Toronto-based Kowalski, who worked at Canadian TV giant Bell Media for 20 years, joined Paramount in 2021 to lead the Canadian launch of the studio’s ad-based streaming platform — its most ambitious international rollout so far, with more than 100 channels and 20,000 hours of content.

My entry-level industry job PA at televised sporting events. “I was running licorice to production crew at rugby games. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to get paid to be in the sunshine, running treats out to the camera operators.”

Jenn Kuzmyk

Executive director, Banff World Media Festival

For four days each summer, Kuzmyk presides over the most influential international media event in the Canadian Rockies. Network and streaming execs, producers, press, talent and other industry insiders from more than 50 countries gather for the confab at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the Alberta town of Banff, where they attend panels, give out awards and network at parties.

Advice for young women entering the biz “Embrace risk.”

Anita Lee

Chief programming officer, Toronto Film Festival

She’s the chief gatekeeper at one of the most critical awards-season stops in North America, helping to decide which films are shown on TIFF’s screens each September. Before that, she was studio head of the National Film Board of Canada in Toronto and a producer on such Canadian-hatched documentaries as Sarah Polley’s 2012’s film Stories We Tell.

Advice for young women entering the biz “Pursue your true passion and take creative risks.”

Margaret Lewis

Senior relationship Manager, Royal Bank of Canada

Lewis is a link between commerce and art, helping to find financing for Canadian media companies, particularly those run by less-established voices. She helped launch the BIPOC Emerging Producer Lending Program, offering advice and support — and money — to content creators of color in Canada. 

The industry’s most troubling trend “Remakes, revivals, relaunches and sequels of older IP. There are so many great original stories from new generations of creators that are untapped.”

Tatiana Maslany

Actor

Before she became a lawyer — or at least star of the Marvel series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law — she was best known for playing a slew of clones on the breakout BBC America sci-fi drama Orphan Black (a role that originally was supposed to go to the Canadian-born Elliot Page). Next up, she’ll be starring in AMC’s Invitation to a Bonfire, a psychological thriller set at an all-girls boarding school.

The industry’s most troubling trend “Self-tapes in lieu of auditions. Because they rob actors of the most fundamental aspect of their job, which is creative collaboration.”

Laurie May

Co-founder and co-president, Elevation Pictures

As co-head of Canada’s leading distributor of independent films, May has helped bring art house films like The Imitation Game and Moonlight to the Great White North. And the production arm of her company has been making its own films, including 2020’s Jude Law drama The Nest and, that same year, Michelle Pfeiffer’s dark comedy French Exit.

Canadian movie or TV show I most wish I’d made Schitt’s Creek. Kudos to the creative team at CBC for making such a funny, endearing series that resonated with international audiences.”

Rachel McAdams

Actor

Her most recent big-screen appearance — in 2023’s adaptation of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret — caps a 20-year career as one of Canada’s most bankable actresses, with turns in everything from 2004’s recently rebooted Mean Girls to her Oscar-nominated role in 2015’s Spotlight.

Laura Michalchyshyn

Executive producer, Blue Ant Media

She oversees content creation and development — of documentaries, in particular — for the Toronto-based production company Blue Ant Media, making shows for Peacock (Prince Andrew: Banished), Sky (Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell) and Prime Video (The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks).

My entry-level industry job “I worked at a National Film Board cinema, where I was a front-of-house staffer, assistant to the programmer and ticket taker.”

Alanis Morissette

Singer-songwriter

Early in her career — around the time she was opening for Vanilla Ice — she was known as “the Debbie Gibson of Canada.” For obvious reasons, that label didn’t stick, as the Ottawa-born artist released a slew of dark, poppy international hits through the 1990s, including “Ironic,” and most recently released the album The Calm Before the Storm. She’s won seven Grammys, the second-most for a female Canadian singer (Joni Mitchell has 10).

Eleanor Noble

Actor, ACTRA National President

You may (or may not) know her from her roles on such TV series as Alice in Borderland or her voice work on video games like Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. But Noble wields enormous clout as head of the Canadian version of SAG-AFTRA. Although her union didn’t strike in 2023, she did raise a fist in solidarity with her fellow thespians in the States during a protest at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. 

The industry’s most troubling trend “Corporate greed. The threat of replacing us with AI. Issues of bullying and discrimination. These issues kill creativity.”

Sandra Oh

Actor

Her parents wanted her to go to journalism school — she had won a scholarship to Carleton University in Ottawa — but she instead decided to attend the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. Smart move. After a celebrated early turn in the 1994 Canadian film Double Happiness, Oh soon found herself rising through the ranks, with roles in such early-2000s movies as Dancing at the Blue Iguana, Big Fat Liar and Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal. But, of course, it was her turn as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy that really put her on the map; in 2007, she became the first actress of Asian descent to win a SAG Award for best actress. She won again the following year, and then in 2019, for her role as a British intelligence officer on the trail of a bonkers female assassin in the BBC America hit Killing Eve.

Sangita Patel

TV host

She might not be a household name stateside, but up north she’s one of the country’s most recognizable media personalities. As host of Entertainment Tonight Canada, she was a nightly presence in millions of homes, and now she draws a huge following with HGTV Canada’s Home to Win. You can also spot her countless cameos in Canadian-made films (like Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and Xavier Dolan’s The Death & Life of John F. Donovan). 

What I’m watching to unwind “I’m so into international shows. Obsessed with Korean dramas, Chinese movies and Bollywood. I’m used to subtitles now!”

Jennifer Podemski

Actor, producer

You might recognize her from FX’s Reservation Dogs, but Canadian audiences have been following this part-Jewish, part-First Nations actress for decades, beginning with her breakout roles on local TV hits like The Rez, Riverdale and Blackstone. For her latest project, she’s working on the other side of the camera, producing Little Bird, a semi-autobiographical Canadian series about a First Nations woman adopted into a Jewish family. 

My entry-level industry job “A background performer on the film Prom Night III in 1989.”

Sarah Polley

Actor, director

“Canada’s sweetheart,” as this former child star was once known, is one of a handful of actresses from either side of the border who’ve successfully maneuvered the upgrade to director. She first started getting noticed at age 8 as the lead in the Canadian TV series Ramona, in which she played the title character, and by her late teens had found her way into edgy independent productions like Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter and Doug Liman’s Go. Her 2006 feature debut as a director, Away From Her, was a critical sensation, earning her an Oscar nom for adapted screenplay. She followed that up with the 2011 rom-com Take This Waltz, the critically acclaimed 2012 autobiographical documentary Stories We Tell and — her crowning achievement so far — the 2022 drama Women Talking, which won her that best adapted screenplay Oscar.

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Julie Roy

CEO, executive director, Telefilm Canada

She started, 30 years ago, in the editing department at the National Film Board of Canada — she remembers bumping into a young filmmaker in the corridors who was shooting his first short, some guy named Denis Villeneuve — and worked her way up to director general and programming chief officer. Nowadays, as head of Telefilm Canada, a job she took just last year, she’s the country’s biggest indie film financier.

Advice to young women entering the biz “Build connections, trust each other, and find mentors.”

Stephanie Shinkoda

VP distribution and co-country manager, Canada, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Shinkoda is the Sony business office’s point person in Canada, overseeing sales teams across features, TV and library content. Before taking that job in 2022, she was selling TV content in Canada for Paramount and had worked in distribution at Maple Leaf Sports + Entertainment.

My entry-level industry job TV sales at Polygram Film Entertainment. “I was fresh out of film school and owned no office attire nor knew how to use a fax machine.”

Lilly Singh

Actor, producer, TV host

In Canada, she parlayed her comic YouTube persona — she called herself Superwoman, and attracted nearly 15 million fans — into one of the most coveted gigs in old media in the United States: late night talk show host. But even though her stint on NBC’s A Little Late lasted only two seasons, Singh, who was raised in Toronto, is still a big presence on old-fashioned TV north of the border, hosting CTV’s Battle of the Generations and judging on Canada’s Got Talent

Biggest WHOOPS “I was shooting a promo spot for Terminator Genisys and I get on the set to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger and we are chatting and vibing — only it turns out I was talking to his stunt double the whole time.”

Kari Skogland

Director

Her credits are as expansive as the Laurentian Plateau: Films include Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Fifty Dead Men Walking and The Stone Angel, and she’s also helmed such TV shows as Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Showtime’s The Loudest Voice, Apple TV+’s Firebug, AMC’s NOS4A2 and Starz’s The Rook.

My entry-level industry job Receptionist at a production company. “I didn’t know how to type, so I got a ‘learn to type’ book. In those days, you corrected errors using Liquid Paper. You can imagine what my letters looked like.”

Karen Thorne-Stone

President, CEO, Ontario Creates

Karen Thorne-Stone invests in local media content for the Canadian province, and markets Ontario to Hollywood studios and streamers as a foreign location destination. The rewards include generous tax credits and currency savings for U.S. producers. A top priority for Thorne-Stone is getting the Americans back and in big numbers and onto local soundstages and locations in the wake of the dual Hollywood strikes last year.

Advice for young women entering the biz “Seize opportunities when they are presented to you, even if they feel ambitious or outside of your comfort zone; sometimes great things come from unexpected experiences..”

Kim Todd

President, Original Pictures

This indie veteran is best known for producing FX’s Fargo, but she also shepherded the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale as well as Peacock’s Brave New World and Doug Liman’s YouTube drama Impulse. In fact, her work has appeared on just about every network both in Canada and in the States, including ABC, CBS, PBS, Disney+, the BBC, CBC and CTV.

Advice for young women entering the biz “Find allies and keep moving. In time you will see the people who tried to hold you back in the rearview mirror.”

Shania Twain

Singer

It turns out the biggest-selling female country music star of all time — 100 million records sold so far — hails from Windsor, Ontario. Guinness World Records still lists her release, Come on Over, as the biggest-selling studio album ever recorded by a female vocalist. Add her five Grammys, two World Music Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and you’ve got one super successful Canadian C&W singer.

Advice for young women entering the biz “Be realistic about the fact that the music industry is highly competitive, so go into it prepared to work extremely hard.”

Nia Vardalos

Actor, writer

She may have been born in Winnipeg, but her career took off on a stage on Santa Monica Boulevard. That’s where, in 1997, Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, caught Vardalos’ one-woman show at the Acme Comedy Theatre on La Brea. They were so impressed, they decided to finance a movie based on her earlier screenplay — an Oscar-nominated movie called My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which grossed $242 million, making it the highest-grossing rom-com of all time.

Ritual that keeps me on track “I write every day, in the morning, no Wi-Fi in my office. Also, snacks are important.”

Hayley Wickenheiser

Olympic gold medalist, Toronto Maple Leafs senior director of player development

Next to Mounties and moose, there’s nothing more Canadian than ice hockey. And Wickenheiser is undeniably the queen of the sport, having led Canada to four gold medals at the Olympics, then spending 23 years on skates as a member of Canada’s women’s national hockey team and the last six helping the NHL’s Maple Leafs find and keep top talent.

How to improve equality and diversity in the Canadian industry “Thinking outside the box so that we can do things differently.”

Barbara Williams

Executive vp, English services, Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

When Williams landed at the Canadian public network in 2019, she had to make a hard pivot from her experience at commercial entities like Corus Entertainment, Shaw Media, Toronto 1 and Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting. Mostly that meant shifting her focus from importing U.S. content into Canada to creating homegrown fare that could be exported — you know, shows like Schitt’s Creek.

The industry’s most troubling trend Continuing reliance on TV overnights. “They don’t capture how many people watch on other platforms.”

Katheryn Winnick

Actor

She earned a black belt at 13. Opened three martial arts studios in her native Toronto by 21. And by 36, after spending years teaching martial arts to actors on movie sets, she became famous across the northern tundra — and beyond — for stepping in front of the camera to play Lagertha, the shield maiden, on the hit Canadian TV series Vikings, and recently played a detective on Big Sky. More recently, Winnick, who is of Ukrainian decent, was tapped by Volodymyr Zelensky to lead United24’s Rebuild Ukraine initiative to help displaced people find new homes.

How to improve equality and diversity in the Canadian industry “It’s important to encourage the mentorship of women across industry roles.”

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FIVE ON THE BORDER

The rising Canadian talents that Hollywood should be keeping an eye on.

Jessica Cheung

LINE PRODUCER, PRODUCTION MANAGER

When it comes to running the day-to-day logistics of shooting in Toronto, Cheung is increasingly becoming a go-to name in Canada. She’s worked on films for Sarah Polley, M. Night Shyamalan, Rachel Morrison and Chris Columbus, to name but a few.

Meredith Hama-Brown

DIRECTOR

The Japanese Canadian filmmaker’s first feature, 2023’s Seagrass, about an interracial couple on an increasingly fraught family retreat, won a slew of awards, including the critics-picked Fipresci Prize at Toronto, teeing up Hama-Brown as a talent to watch.

Sasha Leigh Henry

WRITER-DIRECTOR-PRODUCER

After cutting her teeth with a series of buzzy shorts — Love Bent, To Love and Back and Bitches Love Brunch — this University of Waterloo graduate now has a hit Canadian TV comedy, Bria Mack Gets a Life, about a young Black college grad in Toronto learning to navigate her independence.

Zosia Mackenzie

PRODUCTION DESIGNER

Most recently, she created the Canadian sets for the Nicolas Cage drama Dream Scenario, but she’s also worked with Brandon (son of David) Cronenberg, Phillip Noyce (on The Desperate Hour), Vladimir de Fontenay (Mobile Homes), Nyla Innuksuk (Slash/Back) and Keith Thomas (Firestarter).

Kudakwashe Rutendo

ACTOR

She got off to a rocky start, signing with her first agent just days before the pandemic shut down Canada’s (and the rest of the world’s) film industry. But she’s definitely made up for lost time, most recently starring in 2023’s Backstop, a cheerleader drama co-starring Evan Rachel Wood and executive produced by Elliot Page.

This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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