Black History Month is a time for all of us to gather and remember the great contributions that black people of African descent have made to the world in the past and the contributions that they continue to make today. Since 2013 the Toronto Black Film Festival (TBFF) has been a much needed staple in my city’s black history month celebration (Torontoblackfilm.com). The festival is a celebration of Black/African cultures through films that recount historical events, folklore, and perspectives from regions of the world/countries by black filmmakers of African descent. TBFF is actually a type of sister festival to the Montreal International Film Festival (MIFF) which was started in 2005 by the Fabienne Colas Foundation. Upon the disappointment and shock that no Montreal festival would show the film for which she had won best actress for in her native Haiti, Ms. Colas and two friends, Real Barnabe and Emile Castonguay started the foundation as a way to give a platform to those who aren’t being seen or heard in the world of the arts. Since its inception the Fabienne Colas Foundation has been showcase to over 2,000 artists and has tens of thousands of participants each year in its initiatives, festivals and activities.
This year’s TBFF takes place from February 10th-14th, 2016. The festival has many ways to participate other than watching films; one can also attend panel discussions, special interviews, and many parties. I am quite happy to say that this year I will be participating in the TBFF by way of presenting a film! The film I will be presenting at TBFF is called White Water, directed by Rusty Cundieff, the synopsis is as follows: “White Water, based on a true story, follows the adventures of Michael, a black youth in segregated 1963 Opelika, Alabama. He becomes obsessed with his desire to taste the water from the “white’s only” drinking fountain and sets out on a quest to do the unthinkable: drink from it.”- See more at: http://torontoblackfilm.com/festival/#/film/38 (follow the link to see the exciting trailer). It also happens that Mr. Rusty Cundieff will be present for a brief Q&A after the showing of the film! As a Black Canadian I feel that it’s very important to share stories of the Black diaspora, especially since it wasn’t heavily focused on in the school curriculum when I grew up.
Although Toronto is the most diverse city in the world, there are still moments of discrimination and prejudice due to lack of understanding between cultures. Film is definitely a way to educate and allow for healing and empathy amongst people. There may be some out there like Stacey Dash, who recently shared that she sees no need for a Black History Month or a BET Network as they encourage “segregation”. Her comments were hypocritical and just plain unintelligent as she has benefitted from appearing on networks such as BET and appearing in “Black” movies and music videos. I think what Ms. Dash fails to see is that positive ethnic focused spaces actually allow individuals a place of belonging and relation. If it weren’t for TV programs such as The Cosby Show and Fresh Prince of Bel Air, no one would have even heard of her; perhaps she wouldn’t even have gone as far as to star in Clueless, which is easily the role she is most known for. Just like the Black film festivals started by Fabienne Colas, these spaces let the stories of those who’ve been overlooked and oppressed shine though. The 2012 MIFF represented 40 countries; there are black people of African descent all over the
world and we all do things differently. For example, the Black film festivals in Canada are bi-lingual because our country has two official languages -- English and French. Many Africans are drawn to living in Canada because they speak the French language due to the French colonies that were established in parts of Africa and the Caribbean.
Whether you think along the lines of Stacey Dash or are on Team Jada Pinkett-Smith with the #OscarsSoWhite boycott, you have to agree that Black/African culture is rich and diverse. Diversity isn’t just about placing one token “Black” person in a film and calling that representation; it’s about allowing many Black/African artists to contribute in their own way (and win awards if the performance is moving), not based on stereotypes that poorly and inaccurately reflect the different cultures. I’m glad that the Toronto Black Film festival has made its debut in my city and gives a place to the unique and vibrant voices of Black/African cultures to be seen, heard and most of all, enjoyed by everyone! - Asha Mullings
For more about the Toronto Black Film Festival and to purchase tickets, click here.