Black creators in Canada’s television and film industry say Black History Month is about looking forward, as much as it is about looking back.
Here’s a look at what several artists have to say about celebrating Black talent and supporting a strong future.
Arnold Pinnock, actor, director, co-creator, executive producer and co-writer of CBC’s “The Porter.”
“For me, Black history is not a month, it’s celebrated as a month and was introduced officially by Jean Augustine in the House of Commons in 1995. It’s just that, celebrating it. When it comes to our industry in the sense of celebration, we’re in such a wonderful time. You have artists that are at the top of their game. You’ve got musicians, graphic artists, novelists, and it’s just the fact that you’ve got all this Black excellence in all these fields…. I can look over my left and right shoulder and see these profound artists doing things that are absolutely stellar.
“Collectively, all of us together helping one another means we can achieve amazing things. The beautiful thing about ‘The Porter’ was that we got the best of the best and we achieved something stellar, collectively. That’s where my inspiration comes from and that’s my celebration of Black history as opposed to Black History Month.”
Elamin Abdelmahmoud, host of CBC Radio’s daily arts, pop culture and entertainment show “Commotion.”
“I can’t remember how it came to be, but a couple of years ago someone introduced me to the concept of February as Black History Month and Black Futures Month, and I was immediately taken by that framing. It seemed like the best and simplest way to address the obvious problem with Black History Month. It’s necessarily backward-looking and focused on the problems of the past. But sometimes romanticizing the struggles of yesterday can prevent you from reckoning with the present.
“Focusing on both Black history and the limitless possibilities of Black futures seemed immediately intuitive to me because it allows us to sit in the present, imagine those futures, and in doing so, articulate what’s in the way between where we are now and how to get there. You can’t imagine Black futures without confronting how schools aren’t nurturing the full potential of Black children. You can’t imagine Black futures without acknowledging that police use more force against Black people. You similarly cannot imagine Black futures without making room for Black joy, Black creation and Black celebration. If there’s going to be a month that celebrates Black life, then it should celebrate it in all of its range and glory. So it’s Black History and Black Futures Month for me.”
Sharine Taylor, writer, critic and director of the documentary “Tallawah Abroad,” about the Toronto neighbourhood better known as ‘Little Jamaica.’
“I’ve always understood Black History Month as a twofold practice. In one part, I think we get great programming across the board, which is never a bad thing. There are opportunities to dive more into the varied realities of Black people, our lives, our relationship to land, space, time and creative practices. My peers and I spend every day thinking about Black history, our current conditions and Black futures and what each of us may lend to making the spaces we occupy more livable or manageable for the next generation of creators.
“On the other hand, I think about how Black History Month has been leveraged by corporations without giving much thought to the Black people in their spaces. Sometimes it feels passive, out of obligation and not meaningful. If companies and organizations are going to take up the mantle of celebrating Black History Month, I implore them to interrogate how they are making conditions more livable for the Black people they employ or the Black people that their work affords them to be in contact with.”
Lamar Johnson, actor known for roles in Clement Virgo’s “Brother” and the HBO drama, “The Last of Us.”
“Black History should be celebrated all the time and not with just one month.
“Just being a Black Canadian creative to me is important because it highlights the beautiful diversity of this country and its artists. Representation is important, so to see ourselves on screen or across any creative medium, it plants the seed for the next generation to follow and carve their own path.”
Hubert Davis, director of “Black Ice” and 2005 short documentary “Hardwood.”
“I think for me personally, Black History Month is a time of reflection on all of the Black contributions to the world we live in. It’s a time to discover stories of the Black experience that I might not have known before. I think as a Black creator, I always want to be reminded of the incredible Black artists that have contributed to the conversation. It’s a way for me to remember that we are not alone in this work. We as Black creators have always been vital. I think of the Maya Angelou quote: ‘You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.'”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2023.