By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY – “Where my mother ends, I begin.” – Here lies a powerful message introduced at the inception of director Sharon Lewis’ debut full-length feature, Brown Girl Begins. Set in 2049, addiction has led to the segregation of the wealthy from the poor. The post-apocalyptic tale follows Ti-Jeanne, a young priestess faced with a life-altering decision. She must either risk resurrecting and surviving possession of the spirits responsible for the death of her own mother, or lay-witness to the demise of her people. The essence of Brown Girl Begins lies within Nalo Hopkinson’s award winning novel, Brown Girl in the Ring.
When asked what ignited that inspiration, Sharon Lewis reflected passionately, “Its the first time I ever read a novel that was set in Canada – a dystopian novel that was set in Canada with Caribbean people. The idea that Nalo could take a city like Toronto in particular and paint it as a dystopia, and have this futuristic view of a place where I grew up blew my mind. I just was inspired by this idea that we could see a Canadian landscape on film in a whole different way.”
Though easily warranting appreciation for the stunning visuals employed throughout, the film projects significant commentary. Lewis says, “It does speak to what’s happening now. And dystopia allows you to push it a little bit further. The kinds of polarization we’re seeing in politics right now could lead to segregation of the wealthy and poor. So that doesn’t feel that far out.
“Detroit was the inspiration for Nalo, for the novel. Detroit is the city we are portraying. The idea that people have abandoned a city and the wealthy have fled, the little political governance. Detroit is on the mend now, but we’re seeing that in large American cities, portions of large American cities, and what I want to do is wake Canada up to the fact that it could happen here. I think sometimes we feel very safe… but that kind of polarization in politics has been happening here in Canada, as well.”
The message does not solely lie within the confines of the film, either. “Its opening across Canada but we’re doing it under a rebranding of Black History Month called Black Future Month,” explains Lewis. “We are really trying to challenge this idea of the way we look at black people in Canada, which is oftentimes to celebrate the history of blacks. Although we think that’s really important, we really, really want to push the gaze into the future.”
The event in Calgary also includes musical performances by Comrade and A.Y.E., The Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Yolanda Sargeant, the latter which stars and sings in Brown Girl Begins.
In summation, Lewis states her mission. “One – Let’s get woke as Canadians and see that these issues are here, not just south of the border. Two – I want young women, and women of colour to be inspired and to know that they have the power to change the circumstances that they’re living in.”
Catch Brown Girl Begins at the Festival Hall during Block Heater on Saturday, Feb. 15.Black History, Block Heater, Brown Girl Begins, Brown Girl in the Ring, Caribbean, Festival Hall, Nalo Hopkinson