CBC Gem’s The Communist’s Daughter a funny peek at the 80s in all its excess

My formative years were spent in the 1980s. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the 80s celebrated consumerism and excess. I was, however, aware of the media’s portrayal of Communism—and the Soviet Union, specifically—during that decade through movies like Rocky IV, Red Dawn and then-WWF wrestlers Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov. And I was aware of how it all came to a head in 1989 when the Berlin Wall tumbled, signifying the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

That time, and the tumult that came with it, is explored in the new web series The Communist’s Daughter. Available now on CBC Gem, the eight first-season episodes are the creation of head writer and director Leah Cameron (Coroner), who has first-hand knowledge of the subject matter.

The Communist’s Daughter is loosely based on Cameron’s childhood: her father was a Communist during the 1980s. As a result, the family car was a Lada, Soviet Life magazine was delivered to the door, and family vacations were to Cuba to support the economy. In the first episode, viewers are introduced to Dunyasha McDougald (Sofia Banzhaf), a 15-year-old living in Toronto in 1989. Happily upholding the beliefs of her father Ian (Aaron Poole) and mother Carol (Jessica Holmes), Dunyasha finds her support of Communism challenged by her first day at high school when she meets Jasmine (Nadine Bhabha) and Marc (Kolton Stewart). (Look for Chris Locke, George Stroumboulopoulos and Neema Nazeri in funny supporting roles.)

It’s been a long road for The Communist’s Daughter. I first spoke to Cameron back in 2018, when she applied to the Independent Production Fund to produce the series. Now, with the debut close at hand, how did she tackle writing the web series?

“By the time I got to shooting the [IPF] teaser, I had a sense of, tonally, what I wanted the show to feel like in terms of comedy and casting,” Cameron says. “I had originally conceived of it as a half-hour comedy, so it was more a process of refining some of the characters and paring things down.” The first TV episode was broken down and served as Episodes 1 and 2 of the web series and a rough season outline followed. Cameron knew she wanted The Communist’s Daughter to be serialized and take place over time, using the frame of Ian running for a local election and Dunyasha beginning her school year in September and the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989.

“It’s a time when the family’s values couldn’t be more out of sync with what’s going on,” she says. “The Reagan 80s are a super-consumerist time, a super-conservative time and a time when I, growing up, said that my dad was a Communist and everybody thought that meant he was an evil person.”

Executive producer Lauren Corber—her LoCo Motion Pictures are behind Detention Adventure and How to Buy a Baby—is always looking for stories that speak to her, an audience for a project and if a creator is bringing something new to the table. She found all three in The Communist’s Daughter.

“Leah and [producer] Natalie Novak did an excellent job with their proof of concept video,” Corber says. “I had worked with Natalie before and was excited to work with her again. Leah came to the project with such a passion for the story. It was just undeniable that she would bring something special to the production.”

The Communist’s Daughter is available now on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of Conor Fisher for Pinko Productions Inc.

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10 thoughts on “CBC Gem’s The Communist’s Daughter a funny peek at the 80s in all its excess”

  1. Why does Canadian television now insist on glorifying American cultural and political icons, people and places and history at the expense of mentioning their own; in their television scripts and songs, particularly? Young Canadians are completely overwhelmed with pop culture from south of the border, as it is!
    Former Canadian Prime Minister – between 1984 and 1993 – Brian Mulroney (remember him; doesn’t sound like you do?) ratified the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Canada – with Ronald Reagan in 1989; “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”; and he was pretty cosy with Margaret Thatcher, too. I was happily about to watch “The Communist’s Daughter” this evening. Then I read the reviews on it littered with American references. And I feel so put off and out by them on our so termed Canadian screens. That is not what Canadians pay for on their public broadcaster.

      1. Hi Greg,
        What a nice editor you are to reply to your comments. Such mannerly behaviour; thank you. I will watch the show because you take the time to respond to your readers. But the concerns, I mention above are valid, Greg. Maybe you’re young so you do not remember a time when half of Canadians (now, it’s around 20 per cent) took my views seriously. The 1980’s was a time for uprising in Canada regarding the FTA and Meech; the issue of a distinct society and why indigenous people should be one, too; lots of protest. Now Canadians of all stripes don’t even blink their eyelashes at the Americanisation of their culture. Politically, by the way, all this relates to left wing democratic socialism philosophy. Traditionally, communist societies – as I remember from Political Science class – view countries or nations as complete communal entities. And cultures were an important part of them. I will watch the show! Thanks again.

        1. PS The “communist societies”, as indicated in my last comment, have nothing to do with the “totalitarian” regimes of USSR, China, Russia, Syria, Uganda, Egypt, Congo and so on. I refer to theoretical communism only.

          1. I totally understand your concerns. This project is a window into communism through the eyes of someone growing up in a Communist household in Toronto in 1989 and certainly doesn’t represent all aspects of what was happening at that time. Thanks for giving it a chance!

  2. How awful that anyone would seek to celebrate communism, a hateful fascist system that brutally murdered over a hundred million human being and destroyed the environment wherever it went. The creator of this show should be introduced to those who suffered, lost family under communist regimes. Typical of overfed under intellectualized westerners to celebrate fascism. Communism is a system of fascism. of bigotry and hate no different than the confederate south and any and all statues physical or intellectual should be removed. It is heart wrenching to think of the stupidity of the creators of this show

    1. Tom, I’m not a supporter of Communism, despite voting for a few Communist candidates as my way of protesting what passes for democracy in Canada and elsewhere, but, you should study the origins of Communism, and what it was really supposed to be, which was not what it was later made into. And, neither is ‘democracy’. The British and American Empires both have killed way more people than all of history’s communist, fascist, and dictatorial regimes combined. As for removing statues, instead of using them to tell the whole truth, is to never learn from history, doomed to repeat it.

  3. In the opening scene of CBC Gem’s new series “The Communist’s Daughter”, the lead character Dunayasha (nicely done by Sofia Banzhaf) views a VHS player for the first time. “It looks like American imperialism has finally reached the shores of our humble home”, she says to her family.

    In addition to that theme, there’s another of importance in this delightfully different online program: Dunayasha’s “pinko” brood – including Oleg from the Soviet Union in the basement – residing in suburban Toronto in the 1980’s. They’re caricatures of a tiny minority of Canadians who believe in theoretical constructs of communism; card carrying members of the Communist Party of Canada. And the father Ian is running for city councillor based on those views. Unsurprisingly, he’s popular with his constituents like Mrs. Macaluso – expertly perfected by Sandra Battaglini; every politician’s wish come true.

    I like the ingenuity and freshness involved in examining both of these subplots on television. I love the characters that revolve around them and; how the actors portray it all. If there was a Canadian Screen Award for television ensemble acting, the entourage in “The Communist’s Daughter” would be up for it.

    That said, the show is full of American pop culture references. For me, it’s difficult to take the whole “American imperialism” story line seriously because of that. All the name dropping is supposed to be satire, I think. But I am not laughing. (I was approximately 10 years older than the Toronto secondary school (Canadian term) students in “Daughter” in the 1980’s. I was a traveller, contractual public servant, journalism school student and an organic gardener; not a money making executive who sat on sofas instead of couches. And I am a lifetime minimalist who casually owned thrift store televisions and never subscribed to cable. But neither did my friends and neighbours who lived in Edmonton Strathcona and walked down Whyte Ave to the local repertory cinema to see Canadian films like “The Decline of the American Empire”, “My American Cousin” and “Roadkill” during the so termed hyper materialistic, Americanised decade! Did we miss something?

    Also, Canadians from my point of view protested the 1989 Free Trade Agreement with the US primarily because of their concerns around culture; not apples, as indicated in episode two “The Apple Orchard”. I attended anti-FTA rallies during the decade to try to keep my fellow citizenry from obsessing over all the American icons in their faces all the time like: Letterman, Arsenio, John Hughes movies, Daddy Warbucks, Diane Keaton, Paula Abdul, Cyndi Lauper – mentioned in “The Communist’s Daughter” Okay, so perhaps the show mockingly glorifies everything American. But, it did not work for me. The referencing put me off. How about 80’s Canadian bands like “The Parachute Club”? Films like “Jesus of Montréal”? Television like “Degrassi Junior High”? Despite the point of irony. Would the scriptwriters ruin the script if they add just one Canuck to a line?

    In the first segment, Dunayasha also describes American screens as “Opium for the Masses”. My first exposure to episodic television drama was CBC’s “Wojeck” at the age of 13. It did not induce euphoria in me. Au contraire, it brought on reality. I have also smoked opium. It made me sick to my stomach. Not everyone likes the drug.

    With more research into what was actually happening in Canada during the 1980’s and less about American “Baby Boom(s)” and “…Breakfast Club(s), this series could be entertaining, memorable and valuable for Canadians. Mix that with the quirky McDougald clan and you would get funny and educational entertainment for the nation. Three stars out of five.

    Collective review of CBC Gem’s 2020-21 online series’ “Decoys”, “Humour Resources” and the above, to follow on commentator’s blog.

    1. Hi Beth, Having had a few hours to contemplate ‘The Communist’s Daughter’, I see the probability they intended the use of so much American to try to make that point you speak of. But other than an all too short bit about Canadian apples, sadly, they failed to strongly and indisputably say so. They should have made a huge deal of a campaign to switch the play to Anne of Green Gables, and lost. That would have made the point. Tragically it does reflect reality anyways. And, very few Canadians will or would get the point they tried to make. I agree with a lot of what you said. Canada is 99 percent Americanized, and it tears me apart to realize that most people in Canada have no clue nor thought about just how wrong and bad that is for Canada. I fail to understand how during the War of 1812 Canadians fought and died with Brits and 1st Nations to defend what would become Canada and drove the invading Americans back south, THEN two years after the war invited them back as tourists and investors. And 50 years later how Canadians officially formed Canada in 1867 in fear of another invasion, one we couldn’t win against Civil War battle hardened veterans, THEN between 1870 and 1920 welcomed an invasion horde of everything American that took over Canada anyways. And, Canada has always been that way. Led and brainwashed by an army of American 5th columnists in Canada, people in Canada succumb to everything American, never even thinking of making any effort to embrace Canadian instead. A recent poll says fewer than 50 percent of younger ‘Canadians’ even think of themselves as Canadians.

      The UK turned it’s back on the Commonwealth of Nations long ago, thanks again to Americans, and now Prince Philip is dead, Queen Elizabeth soon to follow, nobody else in the family wants the job. As the legal but figurative Monarch Head of State for Canada last barrier soon disappears, I fear so too will Canada, annexed by the U.S.
      and the majority of people here will welcome it. I don’t like most people in Canada anymore. – so, fuck ’em all to the hell they’ll get. I’m 70, be dead soon, glad I won’t have to ‘suffer’ in it with them.

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