In Canada: Available on CBC Gem
Diversity is an aspiration pretty much every medium in every corner of the world now wants to reflect in its characters, from the might of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the US to tiny wee BBC Three in the UK. However, while some ‘minorities’, such as women and LGBT+, are present all over the world, others aren’t, so what’s diverse in one country is simply the old paradigm in another.
In the UK: Not yet acquired
It’s all very well a US show highlighting its Puerto Rican and Native American cast members, but where are the Maori, a New Zealand viewer might ask? How about Asians or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, asks an Australian viewer? And in the UK, we might wonder about the lack of Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, Polish, Pakistani and northern English actors, and that’s before we start thinking about middle class v working class representation.
In Canada, which claims Toronto as the most diverse city in the world, questions about diversity on TV are often similar to those in the US. Here, Canada’s Roger Cross Full Employment Act ensures that black Canadians are always represented – albeit by Roger Cross – in virtually every TV show. Similarly, there’s Blood and Water for Chinese Canadians.
But Canada has its own unique requirements for diversity. So we’ve also had Pure to represent Mennonite Canadians, and Kim’s Convenience for Korean Canadians. And for the First Nations of Canada, there’s Mohawk Girls and an entire Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
Putting debates about whether that’s sufficient to one side, that’s all very admirable. But as with all attempts at diversity, those initiatives cater to the largest groups, but not all groups. Where, one might ask – particularly if one were from the UK and considering questions of diversity – are the shows about Indian Canadians?
Indeed, one Indian Canadian asked herself that very question and not getting an answer, made her own TV show starring herself.
The 410Indian-Canadian Supinder Wraich created The 410 after seeing an episode of High Maintenance in which a young Muslim woman tries to buy cannabis – “That was probably the first time I’d seen a South Asian woman represented without hero qualities or desirable qualities or, ‘Oh, she’s a doctor’ or a lawyer or an accountant and she fits into this stereotype”.
It follows would be Instagram influencer Suri, whose life starts to fall apart when her trucker father is arrested for possessing sizeable quantities of cocaine.
What’s worse is that returning home after nearly a year away, she soon discovers more cocaine and not having the cash to pay for bail, comes up with a scheme to get the money…
Bulletproof?To a certain extent, The 410 is bulletproof from criticism. It’s based on the true story of Indian Canadian truckers caught at the US border smuggling cocaine. Wraich, whose family runs a truck-driving school, initially wanted to make a documentary about it. But when she got in contact with the lawyer representing some of the truckers, he suggested focusing on more personal elements of the story.
The result is The 410, named after the single highway connecting the suburb of Brampton to the Greater Toronto Area.
So someone from an Indian Canadian trucking family writing about a real-life incident involving Indian Canadian truckers, whose community was so inspired by her efforts that they offered up everything from the Sikh Spiritual Centre in Toronto to Brampton public transport for the filming. How can one critique that? How can one accuse it of being as daft as a brush?
Compounding that issue is the fact the first episode has a real air of authenticity to it, with views of the Canadian justice system that make Street Legal evaporate as the froth it is at first contact. It’s also a constantly comfortably bilingual show, both in terms of language and culture, Wraich’s character sitting uncomfortably with one foot in her parents’ more traditional environs, the other in a more youthful, more Western set of aspirations. It has a lot to say about the meeting of cultures, Western-imposed concepts of beauty and the distancing of youth from the parents.
But after that, the remaining brief (25 minute) episodes slowly spiral out of control, the more and more they leave areas with which Wraich’s presumably more familiar. The strange rich bloke hanging around the house explaining the best way to make chai is the first sign of oddness.
But when she starts having to not only negotiate deals with drug dealers but even launch a raid against a rival, in which she triumphs by shooting him in the arse, you get a sense that someone’s going for wish fulfilment.
But when it’s revealed that (spoiler alert) (spoiler alert) her parents are big league drug dealers , one can’t help but wish she’d been a little less imaginative – or conversely not write about what she knows.
Indeed, there were times that I was somewhat minded of one cautionary tale about what happens when you allow actors to write their own scripts and then star in them.
ConclusionThe ending is odd. It’s like the whole thing was supposed to be six episodes but they ran out of cash after three and just decided to stop. There’s a resolution of sorts, but it’s so clearly begging for a second season that you wonder if you’ve actually finished the first, they were in such a hurry to get recommissioned.
But those minor niggles aside, it is an impressive debut piece looking at a community you might not have suspected even existed. Wraich is very good and although there’s more than a hint of wish fulfilment to the piece, her character is interesting and has a lot to say. I largely enjoyed all three episodes and clocking in at just an hour and 15 minutes, you can hardly accuse it of wasting your time.