Canadian filmmaker’s Brown Girl Begins gives the power on the screen to a strong, black female lead

It was created to be the tagline for the movie Brown Girl Begins, but “the future is her” couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time as women are finding their voices in Hollywood and beyond.

That fact is not lost on Toronto-based filmmaker Sharon Lewis, who is in Calgary Thursday, Feb. 15 for a special screening of her post-apocalyptic film featuring a fearless, young Caribbean woman who has the fate of her people in her hands.

“We were putting together the poster and found a beautiful image of Mouna Traoré (who plays the lead character Ti-Jeanne) and looked at her and thought, ‘She is the future,’ ” Lewis explains. “And right now, we are seeing that dynamic shifting and changing, and there is a lot of conversation around feminism, equality and diversity.”

Inspired by Nalo Hopkinson’s award-winning novel Brown Girl in the Ring, Lewis’s film is set in 2049 on a island off the coast of Toronto, where Ti-Jeanne must risk “death by a spirit” during a possession ritual so that she can take her place as a Caribbean priestess and save her people.

Ti-Jeanne is exactly the type of character Lewis was yearning for when she first discovered the novel. In fact, that was the first time she read anything with a young Caribbean woman as the lead and not a secondary character. 

“Can you imagine what it’s like growing up and never seeing an image of yourself? There were literally no images of young black Canadian women that were strong, complex, real people. This was the first time I saw myself in a character.”

That’s also exactly the type of character Lewis wants to portray to those who watch her film.

“It’s important to show Canadian black women, but it’s also important to show Toronto, and it’s important to show Canada in all its diversity and complexity. I hope black women everywhere see this film and find it relates to them.”

The film’s screening as part of the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Block Heater coincides with Black History Month, and Lewis is proud to showcase her work as she believes it has become more of a movement than a movie.

“It’s really important during Black History Month that we remember we are not the sum of our history. It’s an important time to come together as a black community because of our shared history of oppression but also as a celebration of culture, art, survival and presence in Canada.”

Sharon Lewis will be in attendance for the Thursday, Feb. 15 screening of Brown Girl Begins at Festival Hall, which will also featuree performances by Yolanda Sargeant (of Calgary’s favourite duo Sargeant and Comrade) and other special guests. For tickets please click here.

Krista Sylvester is a freelance writer (and creator of that’s all she wrote) with a journalism background. She has worked for Metro, CityTV and the now defunct FFWD, and specializes in arts and culture, sports, film and entertainment, social issues and more. When she’s not writing, she can often be found at the poker table or ice rink playing hockey.