Canada suddenly has its first hijab-wearing news anchor on commercial television.
"For me, it's just a step forward in my career," Ginella Massa, who jumped at the chance to fill a vacant anchor chair at the CityNews network in Toronto last Friday night, tells The Hollywood Reporter. But when Massa ended the 11 p.m. newscast just before midnight and checked in with her assignment editor, they agreed that Canada also had taken an even bigger leap forward for diversity.
"He said, 'Was that a first?' And I said, 'Yes, I think it was,' to have a woman in a hijab anchor the news in Canada," she recalls. So Massa marked her career milestone on her Twitter account and on Facebook, where she wrote: "That's a wrap! Thankful to have opportunities like this at a time when there is so much hate and vilifying of Muslims."
Her smartphone hasn't stopped buzzing since. "People started to go, 'Wow, that's amazing that we haven't already had this in Canada,'" she adds. Massa hopes this is the last time Canadians do a double take over her religious headscarf.
"It shouldn't be a big deal," she says. But Massa wearing a hijab while hosting a major network newscast has become a big deal in the wake of Donald Trump's U.S. presidential win.
A backlash online was immediate, if only from a vocal minority.
"Hatred does exist. I've seen it firsthand: on my Twitter timeline, in the comment sections of articles written about me," says Massa, who suddenly finds herself in unchartered terrain for broadcasters. She adds that the square of cloth covering her head is far more than a fashion statement.
It's a symbol of faith and deeply personal, she says. Massa became Canada's first hijab-wearing TV reporter in January 2015, when she began working as a video-journalist for CTV News in Kitchener, Ontario, two hours away from Toronto.
Massa recounts worrying about how TV viewers would receive her hijab while she reported from the field, but she needn't have. "At that time, it was overwhelmingly positive," she says. "That encouraged me to continue in my career."
She joined CityNews in February 2016. But her first hijab-wearing anchor gig comes as Muslims on both sides of the border have been feeling increasing alarm and vilification following Trump's presidential campaign and ultimate victory. "I do worry for my friends and my family in the States. I worry about traveling through the States. Because, yes, there's a head of state who has been very vocal about how he feels about Muslims," explains Massa.
She also shares widespread concerns among Canadians that hard-won rights by visible minorities and others will be lost with Trump in the White House. "There's a fear that we will go backwards, that we have made so many strides in terms of acceptance and tolerance and understanding each other. It's scary to think that all of that can be undone," says Massa.
She cites a spike in reported hate crimes as grounds for Muslims everywhere to dispel stereotypes by pridefully showing themselves off as everyday people. "That's what I'm trying to do, to do my job as a journalist. I just happen to wear a hijab while doing it," says Massa.
The Canadian TV reporter also works at a City TV station that, besides having given Fox News Channel's John Roberts his start as an entertainment reporter in the late 1970s, is known for having long embraced diversity in its hiring practices to reflect Toronto's multicultural communities.
"If we really want to tap into our diverse communities and tell their stories, then we need to have those people represented," Massa says of her network's Toronto newsroom. And she rejects any criticism that her Muslim headdress stops her from being impartial as a journalist.
"Everyone has biases. That doesn't mean I shouldn't be in this industry," Massa says as she looks ahead to her next CityNews anchoring gig scheduled for late December.