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Black History Month on Video: Changemakers


The indefatigable and innovative work of Black screenwriters and directors past and present has sought to ensure that Black lives be truly represented on screen. Each generation building upon the struggles and successes of the previous, recent years have seen feature films as varied as Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, television shows like Issa Rae’s Insecure and Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar, and documentaries such as Ezra Edelman’s OJ: Made in America emerge as unique yet vital expressions of the Black experience. Ottawa Public Library's film and television collections, both in physical and digital formats, seek to reflect this emergence, and Black History Month is a useful time to interrogate the collection and draw out but a small aspect of the Black voices and people within it.


But first, a moment of reconsideration: although celebrated long before, Black History Month was officially federally recognized in Canada only in 1995, owing to the efforts of the country's first Black woman parliamentarian, the Honorable Jean Augustine. Previous to and certainly since that time, there have been those who question the celebration, and their voices can be clearly heard within our collection. In both Jamaican-Canadian Bee Quammie's editorial short "Why It's Time for Black History Month to Go" and Shukree Hassan Tilghman's film More Than a Month, the authors call the commemoration reductive and ultimately ineffectual in stirring public consciousness. Moreover, Quammie sees Canada as "smug and complacent in its benevolence," using the month to give lip service to the struggles and achievements of Black Canadians.


As such, for those who haven't yet taken the time to, perhaps this February can be used as a jumping-off point in engaging - year-round - with the historical and ongoing issues, thoughts and art of Black communities on both sides of the border. If nothing else, it is a time to acknowledge that, as illustrated in documentaries such as The Skin We're In - featuring Toronto journalist and activist Desmond Cole - and books like Robyn Maynard's Policing Black Lives, anti-Black racism is as relevant a topic in Canada as it ever has been.


In that spirit, the A/V list found below was created by an ally in the ongoing struggles of Black Canadians and Americans, and works to not simply highlight Black achievement or struggle, but to spotlight those who have fought - often (if not always) at great personal cost - to ensure that overt and systemic discrimination be both exposed and remedied. These films and television programs tell the stories - many of them ongoing, rather than simply historical - of those individuals and movements who have explicitly and often radically proposed counter-narratives to existing systems of power and thought.


Although not exhaustive, the list stretches from abolitionists to BlackLivesMatter, seeks to spotlight Black Canadians, and culls from OPL's physical and streaming video collections. Be sure to browse our resources to uncover even more of these stories. Through Curio, one can find CBC documentaries like Black Lives Matter: the Disruptors. Hoopla and Access Video titles, integrated into our catalogue, reveal videos and series like Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1985.


Please add those you consider to be "Changemakers" to the comments section below, and be sure to engage with OPL's Black History Month programming, including the February 28 documentary screening presented in partnership with Black History Ottawa and Worker’s History Museum.



OPL Black History Month on video: Changemakers by Daniel_Library

Highlighting some of the films and television programs that tell the stories of Black Canadians and Americans who have fought - and continue to fight - for equality and justice. Please see the related blog entry here: