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Why we celebrate Black History Month

Hear a message from our Artistic Director on the importance of Black History Month programming, and exploring Black queer art year round, or read the text of the letter below.

I’m Anoushka Ratnarajah, Artistic Director at Out On Screen. Thank you so much for joining us for Black History Month programming. For the last two years we have been programming films from Black queer filmmakers, and we are continuing to do so. 

Why recognize Black History Month? As a queer film and arts organization, it’s important to use this time to recognize, celebrate and learn from Black queer filmmakers and artists. So many aspects of what we consider our shared queer culture is appropriated from Black queer culture and cultural workers. Black filmmakers have and continue to have formative impact on the queer film canon in North America, from Marlon Riggs’ work documenting Black queer masculinity and the impact of HIV AIDS on Black communities in Tongues Untied, to Cheryl Dunye’s Watermelon Woman interrogating the erasure of black queer women in film, to Dionne Brand’s Long Time Comin’ celebrating queer Black women’s artistry, to Brother to Brother to Difficult Love to Keyboard Fantasies. 

Black filmmakers have always been carving out space for authentic, complex storytelling and artistry. Oscar Micheaux, often credited by film historians as the first African American filmmaker, created his own production company in the early 1900’s and released over 40 films that honestly and humanely depicted Black life in Jim Crow era America. Independent filmmakers everywhere owe a debt to Micheaux and others for creating a model for film production and financing outside of the dominant studio system. 

In Canada in the 1980’s, the Black Film and Video Network opened numerous institutional doors while also lobbying unions and providing their members with critical training. The organization became the launchpad for an entire generation of Black creatives.

At VQFF my job is to continue to program films that centre and uplift Black queer stories. It’s important that we research our films to find out if the filmmakers behind them are from the communities depicted on screen, or have built a relationship of mutual trust and respect with their participants. It’s our job to continue to pay the Black queer artists we work with, and to seek out Black queer artists we have not yet engaged with. We have to continue to hire and work with Black queer curators and programmers and whenever we can, create opportunities for Black queer creatives to connect with our audiences. We must do this all year round, and also pay respect to Black queer film in February. 

I hope you enjoyed what Festival Programmer Nya Lewis and I have selected for you: Brother to Brother, Difficult Love, and Keyboard Fantasies co-presented with VIFF. And I hope you continue to seek out Black queer film and art beyond this month.