Black communities in Canada: docs to watch, curated by the NFB

In solidarity with Black and POC communities, Realscreen has partnered with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) to amplify documentaries that educate and inform.⁠ The NFB is Canada’s public producer-distributor of ...
June 18, 2020

In solidarity with Black and POC communities, Realscreen has partnered with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) to amplify documentaries that educate and inform.⁠

The NFB is Canada’s public producer-distributor of documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences. NFB producers are embedded in communities across the country, from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver, British Columbia.

NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 24 Canadian Screen Awards, 21 Webbys, 12 Oscars and more than 100 Genies.

The organization’s Black communities in Canada playlist is a free collection of films by award-winning “Black filmmakers, creators  and allies of the Black community.”

“The wonderful thing about the NFB’s collection of films on Black communities in Canada is that they tell the story from as far back as the early 1950s. Right up to the present day, with such important films as Charles Officer’s Unarmed Verses, the NFB has made sure that the communities have a strong voice through these films, while producing and distributing works by Black creators that expose racism and discrimination,” Albert Ohayon, the NFB’s English film collection curator, says.

Join us in our work to listen, learn and unlearn by watching films selected by the team at the NFB (with edited synopses from the NFB):

Unarmed Verses (2016)


Directed by Charles Officer and produced by Lea Marin, this feature documentary presents a “thoughtful and vivid” portrait of a community facing imposed relocation. At the center of the story is a 12-year-old Black girl whose poignant observations about life, the soul and the power of art give voice to those rarely heard in society. Unarmed Verses is a cinematic rendering of the universal need for self-expression and belonging.

Unarmed Verses is the winner of the Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award at Hot Docs 2017.

Journey to Justice (2000)


Journey to Justice, directed by Roger McTair and produced by Karen King-Chigbo, pays tribute to a group of Canadians who took racism to court.

Focusing on the 1930s to the 1950s, this film documents the struggle of six people who refused to accept inequality. Viola Desmond insisted on keeping her seat at the Roseland movie theater in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 rather than moving to the section normally reserved for the city’s Black population. Fred Christie was denied service at a Montreal tavern because of his skin color and took his case to the Supreme Court in 1936. Hugh Burnette and Bromley Armstrong pressured the Ontario government to enact fair accommodation practices in the 1940s. Donald Willard Moore dedicated his life to reforming Canada’s biased immigration policy. Stanley G. Grizzle, president of the Toronto Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, worked to ensure fair employment practices for his predominantly Black union members.

Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community (1983)


The Jane-Finch “Corridor” is an area of six square blocks in Toronto’s North York. To the residents of Metro Toronto, the Corridor evokes images of “vandalism, high-density subsidized housing, racial tension, despair and crime.” By focusing intimately on the lives of several of the residents, many of them Black people or members of other visible minorities, and their relationship with police, social service agencies and other major institutions that affect their lives, the film provides a powerful view of a community that, contrary to its popular image, is working towards a more positive future.

Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community is directed by Jennifer Hodge and Roger McTair. Producers are John Kramer and Judy LeGros.

Black Mother Black Daughter (1989)


Black Mother Black Daughter explores the lives and experiences of black women in Nova Scotia, their contributions to the home, the church and the community, and the strengths they passed on to their daughters. Some of the women appearing in the film are Edith Clayton, a basket maker; Pearleen Oliver, a historian; Dr. Marie Hamilton, an educator and community leader, and Daurene Lewis, a weaver and politician. Also appearing is the dynamic womens acapella quartet “Four the Moment.”

The film is directed by Sylvia Hamilton and Claire Prieto and produced by Shelagh Mackenzie.

Speakers for the Dead (2000)


In the 1930s in rural Ontario, farmer Bill Reid buried the tombstones of a Black cemetery under a pile of broken rocks to make way for a potato patch. In the 1980s, descendants of the original settlers, Black and white, came together to restore the cemetery — but there were “hidden truths no one wanted to discuss,” and “deep racial wounds” opened.

Scenes of the cemetery excavation, interviews with residents and re-enactments — including one of a baseball game where a broken headstone is used for home plate — add to the film’s emotional intensity.

Meet Helen and Alan Miller, seventh-generation Black Canadians and members of the cemetery restoration committee. And Les Mackinnon, a fourth-generation Scottish Canadian who heads the movement to restore the Priceville cemetery. Speakers for the Dead reveals the turmoil stirred up by desecrated graves and underlines the hidden history of Black communities in Canada.

Co-directors David Sutherland and Jennifer Holness recently coproduced Stateless (Tribeca/Hot Docs/DOXA 2020) with the NFB. Peter Starr is producer.

Photos courtesy of the NFB

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