This February is Black History Month and we’ve compiled a list of movies, documentaries, books and podcasts to help you engage with and learn about the diversity of Black lives and history in BC and Canada. Explore the selection below, and consider what might you add to your play – or reading – list this month.
Movies, Shows, and Documentaries
Ninth Floor (2015)
Protagonists of the 1969 Sir George Williams University protest reflect on their experience and this critical moment in Canada’s history of race-relations. In response to the mishandling of racism accusations by the Montreal university, a group of Caribbean students occupy a ninth-floor of the institution in protest.
Black Soul (2005)
An animated short by Haitian-Canadian film-maker Martine Chartrand that explores defining moments in Black history and culture. Watch as a young boy gets immersed in his grandmother’s storytelling that traces their roots.
Everybody’s Children (2008)
Everybody’s Children shares the experiences of two teenage refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone as they navigate settling in and adapting to their new life in Ontario and deal with the complexities and challenges of the refugee application process.
Home Feeling: A Struggle For Community (1983)
An exploration of systemic racism and deep-seated tensions between the police and Black community in the Jane-Finch area of Toronto.
Journey to Justice (2000)
A tribute to Canada’s unsung heroes in their quest for Black civil rights and racial justice. The movies shares the story of six Black activists during the period of 1930 to 1950, including Viola Desmond and Fred Christie.
Unarmed Verses (2016)
In the middle of a low-income community facing revitalization and relocation, a 12-year old Black girl searches for belonging and self-expression through the power of art.
We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies (2018)
We Are the Roots tells the stories of Black immigrants who came up from the United States to settle in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900s to escape slavery and racism – but ended up facing discrimination in both Edmonton and in the rural communities. 19 descendants of original settlers reflect on their histories.
Secret Alberta: the Former Life of Amber Valley (2017)
Winner of the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Excellence in Digital Storytelling tells the story of one of the first all-Black settlements in Canada.
Black Strathcona: Hogan’s Alley (2017)
Hear stories that celebrate the people and places of Hogan’s Alley. Did you know Jimi Hendrix spent time in Strathcona with his grandmother Nora Hendrix in 1940s? And that Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Sammie Davis Jr. frequented Vie’s Chicken & Steaks – a soul food haven on Union Street where Nora worked?
Hamilton’s Ugly Underbelly: Racism
This documentary captures the personal stories of Hamiltonians who have experienced blatant and covert forms of racial discrimination. It covers one of the worst racially motivated hate crime Ontario has witnessed in the early 21st century, the arsoning of the Hindu Samaj Temple, and attempts at social justice and healing from the impact of racism. From Ismaël Traoré and Lisa Watt.
Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley (2016), Storyhive via YouTube
The 16-minute documentary takes a look back on how this hotbed of historic jazz was nearly forgotten by time and erased by urban renewal and the viaducts. It’s a must-watch for anyone interested in the rich history of Vancouver.
Decolonizing Post-Secondary Classrooms for Rockstar Learners
Sisters in Struggle
Fat and Black with The Audacity to be Badass
Nancy’s Workshop, CBC (Free to stream)
The Porter, CBC & BET+
Inspired by real events and set in the roar of the 1920s, The Porter follows the journeys of an ensemble of characters who hustle, dream, cross borders and pursue their ambitions in the fight for liberation – on and off the railways that crossed North America. It is a gripping story of empowerment and idealism that highlights the moment when railway workers from both Canada and the United States joined together to give birth to the world’s first Black union. Set primarily in Montreal, Chicago and Detroit as the world rebuilds after the First World War, The Porter depicts the Black community in St. Antoine, Montreal – known, at the time, as the “Harlem of the North.”
With a rich selection of classic and contemporary, poetry and prose books written by celebrated Black authors available in store or at your local library, there are countless options that are sure to satisfy every kind of reader. Here are a few gems that you should definitely add to your to-read pile.
The Dyzgraphxst is a book of poetry. The book moves to mine meanings of kinship through the wide and intimate reach of language across geographies and generations and against the contemporary backdrop of intensified capitalist fascism, toxic nationalism, and climate disaster.
The Promised Land presents the everyday lives and professional activities of individuals and families in communities in Chatham-Kent settlements and beyond. It highlights early cross-border activism to end slavery in the United States and to promote civil rights in the United States and Canada. Essays also reflect on the frequent intermingling of local Black, White, and First Nations people.
The Skin We’re In chronicles just one year—2017—in the struggle against racism in this country. It was a year that saw calls for tighter borders when Black refugees braved frigid temperatures to cross into Manitoba from the States, Indigenous land and water protectors resisting the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, police across the country rallying around an officer accused of murder, and more.
Angry Queer Somali Boy is a memoir by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali. Kidnapped by his father on the eve of Somalia’s societal implosion, Mohamed Ali was taken first to the Netherlands by his stepmother, and then later on to Canada. Unmoored from his birth family and caught between twin alienating forces of Somali tradition and Western culture, Mohamed must forge his own queer coming of age.
We’re Rooted Here and They Can’t Pull Us Up: Essays in African-Canadian Women’s History is a collection that explores three hundred years of Black women in Canada, from the seventeenth century to the immediate post-Second World War period.
Until We Are Free describes how the Black Lives Matter movement’s message found fertile ground in Canada, where Black activists speak of generations of injustice and continue the work of the Black liberators who have come before them. It highlights the latest developments in Canadian Black activism, organizing efforts through the use of social media, Black-Indigenous alliances, and more.
Queer Returns is an collection of essays that question what it means to live in a multicultural society, how diaspora impacts identity and culture, and how the categories of queer and Black and Black queer complicate the political claims of multiculturalism, diaspora, and queer politics.
They Said This Would Be Fun is a memoir about what it’s like to be a student of colour on a predominantly white campus. Eternity Martis was excited to move away to Western University for her undergraduate degree. But as one of the few Black students there, she soon discovered that the campus experiences she’d seen in movies were far more complex in reality.
Go Do Some Great Thing evokes the chaos and opportunity of Victoria’s gold rush boom and describes the fascinating lives of prominent Black pioneers and trailblazers in British Columbia, from Sylvia Stark and Saltspring Island’s notable Stark family to lifeguard and special constable Joe Fortes, who taught a generation of Vancouverites to swim.
A Man Called Moses is a historical novel that describes Moses’s departure from the Caribbean island of his birth, the fearful realities of slavery and the terrors of working with the Underground Railroad in the United States, the early roots of colonial society and democracy in Victoria and, finally, Moses’s part in the always-spirited life along the creeks of Barkerville.
Dear Occupant is a creative non-fiction memoir about home and belonging set in the 80s and 90s of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Using a variety of forms, Knight reflects on her childhood through a series of letters addressed to all of the current occupants now living in the twenty different houses she moved in and out of with her mother and brother.
I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You is a meditation on the politics of race today. When a moment of quietly ignored bigotry prompted his three-year-old daughter to ask “what happened?” David Chariandy began wondering how to discuss with his children the politics of race. A decade later, in a newly heated era of both struggle and divisions, he writes a letter to his now thirteen-year-old daughter.
The Gospel of Breaking is a book of poetry. Christmas extracts from family history, queer lineage, and the political landscape of a racialized life to create a rich, softly defiant collection of poems.
The following is a series of vignettes spotlighting some of the Black Canadians that have marked the country’s past, as well as those that are marking Canada’s present.
The Secret Life of Canada
A podcast that talks about people, places and events that your high school history class might’ve skipped over. Co-hosted by Leah Simone-Bowen and Falen Johnson, a first generation Black Canadian and Mohawk and Tuscarora from Six Nations.
Do you know what it’s like to be Black in Canada? Torontonians Dalton Higgins and Melayna Williams talk about important issues relevant to the Black community in our country and around the world.
On Feeling and Knowing.