Ryerson raises its voice on anti-Asian racism

Who: Ryerson University, with Crank Idea Corporation (Tony Lee) and David Tennant Films (David Tennant directing), Toast + Jam, Jigsaw Casting.

What: “Silence,” a new PSA campaign addressing the rise in anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. The campaign went from brief to posted creative in 44 days.

When & Where: Timed to coincide with Asian Heritage Month, the ads went live over the weekend. They’re running through June on Ryerson’s social channels, with paid social across Facebook and Instagram. They drive to a dedicated website, RespondingToHate.ca, which houses a toolkit offering resources for people who have been the target of anti-Asian racism.

Why: Because racism targeting the Asian-Canadian community has spiked in the past year. According to a June 2020 study by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with the University of Alberta, half of Chinese Canadians surveyed reported being called names or insulted as a direct result of the pandemic, and 60% said they had adjusted their routines to avoid run-ins or other unpleasant encounters.

Ryerson chancellor Janice Fukakusa said that the goal was to present something “noticeable” that would resonate beyond Ryerson’s student body and with the broader public. “This is a Canadian issue, not just an Asian-Canadian issue,” she said. The videos have led to more than 2,700 visits to RespondingToHate.ca since going live over the weekend.

How: One 30-second ad, “Scream,” shows Asian people of various ages walking around Toronto, only to suddenly stop and let out a silent scream as life continues around them. “Discrimination. Hate. Violence. We feel it,” read the accompanying supers. “But many of us stay silent.”

A second ad, “Microphone,” consists of a shot of a microphone standing in locations including a playground, a parking garage and on the street as passersby go about their business, while a series of subtitles inform viewers that “Few Asians who feel the pain of discrimination, hate, and even violence go public. Will you?”

There is also a series of social ads that take advantage of the fact that ads appearing in Facebook and Instagram feeds are silent by default. The ads show Asian Canadians including Fukakusa and UBC president and vice-chancellor Santa J. Ono, speaking (silently) to camera with a super directing viewers to the unmute button. 

Crank’s Tony Lee said that the creative approach is designed to showcase the reluctance among Asian people to speak up when they are the victim of racism. “I know from my upbringing it’s a particular thing with a lot of Asian cultures that you keep your head down and you don’t speak up,” he said. “You just sort of swallow it.”

And we quote: “Working on a project like this makes you reflect on your experiences, and [racism] is so ubiquitous you almost don’t notice anymore. It’s sort of insidious that way. You think back on the 1970s and 1980s and you think it’s getting better, but it’s 2021, and it’s getting worse.” — Tony Lee, Crank Idea Corporation

Chris Powell