The message was clear: It is our time. It was a message that was present at shows throughout this year’s Toronto Black Film Festival. It was surprising even to me, a Toronto native, that this was the fifth year of this festival’s existence. With this in mind, I didn’t have any previous experiences to compare it to. What I do know is what I felt attending the shows throughout the five days at this year’s festival, and what I felt was urgency.
My feelings were reflected most vividly through the words of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, the iconic Lou Gossett Jr. During his acceptance speech and his panel discussion, he said again and again “we have so many stories to tell.”
And he was right. Though so many of these stories were told during the festival — 76 about a Nigerian soldier falsely accused of taking part in a coup, or Sound of Redemption about Frank Morgan and other incredible musicians who formed a renowned jazz group while in San Quentin jail — you got the feeling that all of this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Right now is our time. Right now people care. The world cares. And, yes, it took the publicizing of police brutality and outright murdering of young blacks for this to happen. It took the perpetual violence in some parts of America that has seen so many African Americans lose their lives. It has taken kidnappings of little girls by the dozens, inadequate representation of people of colour on television and throughout the media. It has taken the contributions and controversy of Black Lives Matter, and now, Donald Trump for us to finally get to this point. But we are here nonetheless.
The true catastrophe now was if we let all of this happen for nothing. The true tragedy would be if all of these atrocities went down and nothing became of it. Being part of the creative community, it’s our opportunity to create these stories. To use our gift of film, art, journalism, photography, design, and to share stories to both celebrate the black experience and to reflect on the times when that experience has been challenged.
Toronto’s Black Film Festival did just that, and the people were listening. I heard people outside of a film they had just left speaking about how they liked it, how they would have made it better, about parts they understood and didn’t get at all. There was a big lineup to buy tickets to see Lou Gossett, but the theatre was full for the show just before that, as well. It mattered, every film in this festival mattered.
I can’t get the words of Lou Gossett’s son, Satie, out of my mind. After showing his own short film, someone asked him during the panel discussion if he thinks that this short will give him the recognition he seeks so he can finally do a feature film.
While he did acknowledge that doing a feature film is the goal, his response was simple and elegant.
“If I have to do another short, I’ll do another short.”
And that is the situation we find ourselves in collectively as black people. Are we where we want to be? Are we respected as we want to be? Are we treated as fairly as we want to be? Though none of these questions can be answered in the affirmative, we need to take Satie’s advice and continue to shoot shorts until our stories, our voices, our culture, is featured just as prominently as any other race.