TORONTO — Fans of "Trickster" are expressing disappointment after Canada's public broadcaster announced it was cancelling the Indigenous TV series in the wake of controversy over co-creator Michelle Latimer's claimed ancestry.
Viewers, some of the show's creators and fellow Indigenous actors took to social media on Friday to question why the CBC didn't find a new path forward for "Trickster," even though it had been greenlit for a second season.
"This could have been an opportunity to do it right the second season," tweeted Mohawk performer and filmmaker Devery Jacobs, whose acting credits include the recent film "Blood Quantum."
"I know dozens of real Indigenous writers and directors who could’ve taken over as show runner and benefitted from this opportunity."
Shot largely in North Bay, Ont., "Trickster" was a mythical story starring Joel Oulette as a teenager who discovers he has magical powers passed down through generations.
The show debuted to much positive buzz last fall, but became a lightning rod of attention in December after a CBC News investigation challenged co-creator Latimer's self-identification as Indigenous. The Toronto-based filmmaker had said she was of Algonquin, Metis, and French heritage, from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Maniwaki area in Quebec.
The news report led Latimer to issue a statement saying she "made a mistake" in naming Kitigan Zibi as her family’s community before verifying the linkage. She said she had contacted elders and community historians to receive guidance and obtain verification.
But the fate of "Trickster" hung in the balance, as questions were raised over whether show's reputation had become irreparably tarnished.
CBC officially pulled the plug on Friday, saying the decision was reached after "many conversations" with the show's producers, writers, actors, and Eden Robinson, the author of the books on which it was based.
"Fully respecting everyone’s perspective, season two will not move forward as planned unfortunately," the corporation said in a statement Friday.
However, not everyone involved with the series was in the loop.
JJ Neepin, a Winnipeg-based associate producer on the series, said she found out about the cancellation through Twitter, which "hurt."
"The producer side of my brain is trying to convince the director side of the brain why it makes sense. Or it just might be my regular brain trying to tell my heart not to take it so hard," Neepin told The Canadian Press by email Friday.
"I loved working on 'Trickster,' I genuinely thought it was going to be one of the big ones, an Indigenous entertainment legacy that I could proudly say I was part of for many years instead of just the short time it was going."
"Trickster" was chance to develop skills on a high-calibre show alongside fellow Indigenous creators from many different nations, said Neepin.
"Whether 'Trickster' finds a new home or a new Indigenous show of the same calibre takes its place, I am glad that Indigenous voices are speaking up, not keeping quiet and continue fighting for our stories to be told properly (and) respectfully."
The CBC declined an interview request on Friday.
"Trickster" was in a difficult position after the CBC report done within the separate news division of the organization.
Latimer became a prominent voice in the Indigenous filmmaking community in recent years, with prizes for her documentary "Inconvenient Indian" and a reputation for supporting young Indigenous filmmakers.
But questions persisted about whether Latimer had misled Indigenous colleagues on "Trickster," and shortly after the report co-creator Tony Elliott and consultant Danis Goulet resigned from the project. Within days Latimer had left her role on the series as well.
On Friday, a representative for Latimer confirmed lawyers for the filmmaker had served the CBC with a notice of libel.
Latimer said in a statement "we have grave concerns about the fairness and accuracy" of the CBC reporting on her ancestry.
"The CBC was aware of the questions and concerns I raised about the integrity of the research they used to inform their reporting, as well as the manner in which they approached the story," she said.
"And yet, they reported inaccurately about my ancestry and created a false narrative about my character and my lineage."
CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson confirmed the broadcaster's "lawyers are reviewing the notice of libel."
While "Trickster" wasn't a ratings smash in Canada, it was the most prominent Indigenous TV series in recent memory.
The show's audience grew through on-demand viewings after its original airdate, and conversations stoked by its presence on TV marked a symbolic cultural milestone.
"Trickster" was picked up by U.S. channel CW and began airing in January, while broadcasters in the United Kingdom and Australia also carried the first season.
"Son of a Trickster" author Robinson said seeing a young, Indigenous cast "soar" was "one of the best parts of 2020" for her.
"The outpouring of support for the first season was magical," the British Columbia-based Haisla and Heiltsuk writer said in a statement.
"I’m deeply grateful that CBC and Sienna respect this situation. It gives me hope that future collaborations with Indigenous creatives can be done with care and integrity."
CBC said the "Trickster" cancellation doesn't sway its commitment to Indigenous stories, and that eight other scripted projects are currently in development.
A statement from Latimer, issued after the "Trickster" cancellation, said seeing the world of the series realized on screen was "one of the greatest joys" of her life.
"I was not involved in the decision that was announced today and am sad to hear that season 2 has been cancelled," she said in the statement issued Friday.
"I am incredibly proud of the entire team that worked so hard to bring 'Trickster' to life and I will forever be grateful to the cast and crew that poured their hearts and souls into its creation."
- with files from Victoria Ahearn
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021.
David Friend, The Canadian Press