Rita Deverell, award-winning journalist, actor and former university professor, is having a bad day on the road. Rain is pelting the windshield of her ancient Subaru and both wiper blades have quit. Unfortunately, there are 20 km of rainy superhighway between the Mississauga church where she has just finished taping an interview and the Toronto headquarters of VISION TV, a national specialty cable channel devoted to programming of a religious nature. As she turns into the stream of busy traffic, Deverell, producer and host for VISION’s flagship programs, seems
black woman to become a fulltime anchor and major program producer for a national TV network. Deverell has been a driving force behind VISION since it began in 1988 with a $900,000 loan guaranteed by five major religious groups. At first, even she was unsure about its prospects. But VISION has not only lasted, it has prospered, largely by offering a fresh alternative to other networks. In place of celebrities, sitcoms and news, VISION offers in-depth interviews, documentaries, and films on subjects ranging from the environment and developing nations to racial, cultural and religious stereotyping.
A Woman Of Vision
unfazed by her car trouble and is already talking excitedly about what she expects to achieve in VISION’s 1994 season, the first in which the five-year-old multifaith network will have no deficit. “We’ll travel more often to remote communities and spend more time listening to people’s stories,” she says. “We want to reflect people’s realities.”
More than any other trait, the determination to reach her destination defines Canada’s first
Deverell, 48, herself is now the face of VISION TV, opening and closing the network’s broadcast day and hosting two of its most popular programs. One of these, the human affairs magazine show It’s About Time, this year earned Deverell Canadian television’s highest award, a Gemini, for programming that best reflects the racial and cultural diversity of Canada.
Such success has not come easily. In 1974, she was turned I down for an on-camera job and “paralysed for a year” when a producer told her that Canadians were not ready for a black host. But she is in her element now, delving behind the headlines and coaxing people to speak from the heart. During an interview with a Zimbabwean AIDS activist, a distant tragedy takes on a human face when the woman reveals that most African mothers only learn they are HIV-positive when their children die of the disease. Later that afternoon, this time during a taping about winter depression, she manages to break through the guarded professional manner of a Toronto psychiatrist, who suddenly melts when he speaks of his joy in alleviating a patient’s suffering.
Bom in Houston and educated at New York City’s Columbia University and the University of Toronto, Deverell came to Canada in 1967 after marrying Canadian-born playwright Rex Deverell. She became a Canadian citizen in 1975, shortly after the birth of her son, Shelton, who is now 19 and a first-year student at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. “We want to create TV that meets people’s emotional and spiritual needs,” Deverell says, “without trying to pretend that TV can be a substitute for real intimacy. There is no 30-second solution for people’s problems, but we can talk about their experiences in an honest way.” If that seems like an ambitious undertaking, there is probably no better candidate for the job than Rita Deverell.
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