Photo Courtesy: Howard J. Davis

Ryerson Library purchases grad’s black history film

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By Will Lofsky

Ryerson’s library has added a graduate’s historical short film to its collection.

 C’est Moi, a short film chronicling the life of Marie-Josephe Angelique and her fight as a slave in Montreal was made by Ryerson theatre grad, Howard J. Davis. 

Davis contacted Val Lem, one of Ryerson’s librarians who specializes in Caribbean studies, to get his movie into the curriculum. Davis says Lem got back to him right away, letting him know that library staff were impressed with the film and agreed to purchase it.

“If the medium of film is an entry into exploring the past, then that is golden because you are learning about black Canadian history,” said Davis. 

Davis says Canadians often forget about the dark history of deep-seeded racism in Montreal. Angelique was convicted for arson—a crime that she did not commit—and she was tortured, hung, and set on fire for the town to see.

The tendency to downplay Canada’s role in the slave trade was exemplified for Davis while he was scouting locations for the film in 2015.  He had found a site in Montreal where the declaration against racial discrimination was displayed. When he returned to film in 2016, the declaration was gone, and had become a construction site for the commemoration of Montreal’s 375th birthday.

“Why, if you’re commemorating your city, would you take down a monument that marks your stand against racism? […] That didn’t make sense to me,” said Davis. “I think there’s a tendency to go, ‘Here’s a plaque. Now let’s move on.’”

The experience made making the film all the more important for Davis, as a commemoration of Angelique’s story.

The film took eight years to make, and was directed, edited, and filmed by Davis. Despite his background in theatre, Davis designed his own website and press kit, did all of his own photography.

While the film made it’s way through the festival circuit, Davis says American audiences were surprised about Canada’s involvement in slavery.

“You realize that everyone is a victim of it, and everyone is culpable in their actions toward it,” said Davis. “Even myself, being mixed.”

Davis says that it isn’t enough that Ryerson purchased his movie, he would love to see it in the curriculum. Thinking back to his time as a student, Davis says he wished faculty had made an effort to diversify and represent people of colour, and hopes his film plays a role in that.

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