Brown Girl Begins — Telling Stories of Colour Sans Stereotypes

This is more than just a movie review.

Brown Girl Begins — Telling Stories of Colour Sans Stereotypes — Shakura S'Aida as MamiCaribbeanTales couldn’t have known I was in the middle of deeply searching for a great connection to my roots when they reached out to collaborate. It’s a dope time for content creators who look like us with Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror smash Get Out taking home an Oscar and 2018’s Black Panther smashing every record the world can toss at it, but we can still do more.

Black culture has long challenged anyone who dares try to keep it in a box. Most of what the world calls “Black culture” is culture reshaped and repackaged for public consumption. Hip-hop. Television. Fashion. It all reached a tipping point where Black culture met bold couture, and suddenly we found ourselves without identifiers accurately representing us anymore.

Or at least—that’s the narrative some would have us believe.

Enter Afrofuturism, the term oft-discussed in the wake of Black Panther‘s success, yet seldom understood despite being around for ages. Simply put, it’s painting a picture of the future where Blackness is the norm—not the exception—showing today’s Black brothers and sisters there’s more to reach for than what we currently see today. We can excel in science. Build updated representations of our traditional emblems. Afrofuturism lets Black people envision the future in a way they see fit, and we’ve barely scratched the surface with what we can build from it.

But some directors have already dipped their toes in the Afrofuturistic waters, and Sharon Lewis is among these few with Brown Girl Begins, Canada’s first Canadian-Caribbean sci-fi feature film!

Brown Girl Begins — So Much More Than Just a Movie… It’s a Statement.

Brown Girl Begins — Telling Stories of Colour Sans Stereotypes — Theatrical Poster

Set in 2049, nineteen years after riots changed Toronto as we know it, Brown Girl Begins tells the tale of Ti-Jeanne, a young woman reluctant to take on her destined role as saviour of her people, fearing it’ll be the end of her.

Shot in just over two weeks on Toronto’s south side with a meagre budget and several odds against it, BGB offers many narratives the Black community’s familiar with, adding different spins to set them apart from what’s defined our cinematic culture for entirely too long. Crack’s transformed from a drug to a deranged scientist using drugs to pollute and change the community. Drop boys moved from the corner to patrolling an entire territory by bike, hockey masks on their faces so you know whose posse they belong to. It felt oddly familiar yet also fresh, with elements of Caribbean culture I never fully experiences as a first-generation Canadian woven in.

What I Took Away from Brown Girl Begins

Brown Girl Begins — Telling Stories of Colour Sans Stereotypes — Measha Brueggergosman as Mama Aché

Now, to be fair, I don’t know that Brown Girl Begins is the kind of flick I would’ve sought out myself. Even Black Panther, currently aloft a very precarious pedestal for Black cinematography, appealed to me more for the decades I’d spent immersed in comics and video games than for what we saw it representing as a community. But even if it wasn’t normally in my lane, I’m glad I saw it—I got to speak with the director and writer Sharon Lewis a few days before its theatrical release, and I think I get how important it is now.

People of colour make up two-thirds of our world’s population, yet we rarely ourselves represented in media outside of a few narrow tropes. We don’t often see ourselves in lead roles on the merit of our abilities; we’re more often token individuals representing our races. What Sharon Lewis sought to create with Brown Girl Begins is promoting the idea that people of colour as superheroes isn’t something that should be newsworthy or exceptional—it should be something we reasonably expect of ourselves. Maybe more films like this will help us to realise that reality!

Step by Step.

Brown Girl Begins — Telling Stories of Colour Sans Stereotypes — The Future is HERe

Brown Girl Begins may be the first flick of its kind, but we hope it won’t be the last. We live in a world where today’s Black youth will remember much of their lives with a Black President of the United States and media that started moving away from the repetitive narratives we’ve been permitted to tell. Stories like these add to our cumulative culture—the more of them we put out there, the more chances for up-and-coming creators of colour to see the possibility of making their visions real. And it couldn’t have been done without the help of a village of people and organisations, including CaribbeanTales who co-presented the film with Sharon Lewis. In fact, if you are a filmmaker of colour, their film festival’s accepting submissions for their 2018 festival right now, so hop to it!

If you want to see what I saw, Brown Girl Begins is playing a few more days at the Cineplex Yonge/Dundas in Toronto (until March 8th), or you can cop the DVD at the Brown Girl Begins site!

Brown Girl Begins. Because the future is HERe.

Until the next,

–case p.

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