Currently, though, DV is in its infancy, and for many providers, it remains a work in progress. In order to help standardize the quality of described video across channels, the Toronto-based Accessible Media Inc. has created a "Best Practices" document of "artistic and technical guidelines." And for those unfamiliar with DV, it is indeed an art. While the unofficial mantra of film schools everywhere is, "Show, don't tell," DV providers have to turn that adage on its head and translate visual images back into something that can be conveyed in words. And, beyond that, they have to do it quickly, and without obscuring any dialogue. With the picture moving at a constant rate of 30 frames per second, time is of the essence.
Most interesting, perhaps, are the ways in which the DV best practices dovetail with a number of ongoing conversations regarding representation in media. For instance, when is it important to describe someone's race or gender on screen? What visual signifiers of a character's identity should DV creators prioritize, and how should they put them into words? As writers, directors and broadcasters continue to become more open to putting characters on screen who don't fit into normative categories, these questions become even more essential. AMI's Best Practices suggest that "[I]dentification of characters by race, ethnic origin or disability is not required unless there is relevancy to plot, motivation or background." Yet, "relevancy" can be difficult to define. What makes someone's skin colour relevant to a narrative? Aziz Ansari, the Indian-American creator and star of Master of None, has spoken about the need to create stories for minority characters that don't revolve around their ethnic identity. And, indeed, a white character could participate in many of the story arcs on Master of None without significantly changing the meaning. But, an important part of normalizing non-white experiences on screen requires the juxtaposition that comes from visible minorities living banal, middle class lives. It seems possible, then, that ignoring race altogether may undermine that goal, even if it's done with the best intentions. As described video continues to make visual media accessible to more Canadians, then, it also gives us a new avenue through which we can use inform and complicate our understanding of representation on screen.