BY LEANNE BENN
Earlier this year, Canada celebrated its 150th birthday and it presented the opportunity for many to reflect. Especially on the history of Afro-Canadians. This year also marked the City of Montreal’s 375th birthday. Montreal or part of our little French Canada and was once known as Ville-Marie. The city was founded on May 17th, 1642.
During this time, it would be difficult to imagine the social climate that black French Canadians lived. C’est Moi is a Canadian film set in the 18th century Montreal or New France, the area colonized by the French in North America.
It is June 21st, 1734, and slavery is still very much alive. A female slave is killed for burning down her master’s home. Effectively her efforts to fight back against racism and slavery burned down most of Old Montreal.
This film presents the opportunity to showcase to the audience the history of the past meeting with the present political and social climate in North America. Howard J Davis directs the film. He is a British born, Canadian filmmaker, actor singer, and dancer. His talents have transcended over to film and C’est Moi hopes to shed light on the poorly exposed past of slavery in New France.
Slavery was not officially abolished until 1833 in Montreal, despite being illegal in France since 1759. The film is based on a historical figure in black Canadian history that has been overlooked. Marie-Josephe Angelique. In the film, she is portrayed by actress Jenny Brizard who was crucial in bringing the pain and struggles of this historical figure to life. Such a big event like this seems to be forgotten in history: a black slave being tortured and sentenced to death for burning down her city. This story is one of Canada’s darkest secrets, the ugly side of history that is overlooked.
The director’s own personal history has a lot to do with the making of this film. Davis is a love child of two different races, but his involvement in post-colonial African history led him to this project. It is an exploration of his heritage. In his official director’s statement Davis remarked: “ Reading about the African diaspora, led me to Canada’s involvement in the story of slavery. As a Canadian, it is interesting to note how Canada’s involvement with slavery appears to have disappeared from our collective consciousness.”
The film was premiered in Toronto in May and also in Hollywood at the Black Film Festival where it gained momentum and success. On September 27th to October 1st, the film will be premiered at the Montreal Black Film Festival. This presents an opportunity for Canadians to gain insight into history. It is Davis’s aim to showcase a part of forgotten history through the creative medium of film to grasp viewers into this world during the days of slavery in our country. It is important to speak about our history as we move towards the future. In doing so, you can address the tension of underlying racism that is happening in North America. C’est Moi was filmed on location in Montreal and showcases everything from the harsh struggles to the formation of the feeling and beauty that lives on in the streets of Old Montreal today. The more you learn about Marie-Josephe Angelique, many questions will be raised. Was she falsely committed for a crime she did not commit? Or was she a rebel of her time, willing to fight back? If you are interested in a future screening of this film, it will be featured at the Toronto Independent Film Festival at Carlton Cinema, downtown Toronto on September 7th-16th. For more locations and future screenings, explore cestmoifilm.com.