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.