Sci-fi, satire and surrealism aren’t words we usually associate with Black History Month every February.
But on a Sunday afternoon at the Yellowknife Public Library, as a projector plays Sorry to Bother You, a 2018 film about telemarketing, the failings of capitalism and half-man-half-horse hybrids created by a nefarious multinational corporation bent on productivity, it’s safe to say the script has been flipped – thanks to Chris Vaughn, the organizer behind the Black Futures Month Film Series.
“I deliberately made the ‘s’ on that because who knows what the future holds,” said Vaughn, who launched the series after joining a book club that focused on speculative fiction and sci-fi written by people of colour.
Drawn to stories that explore the experiences of black people facing futuristic, often dystopian realities in which they’re forced to adapt, Vaughn decided to bring similar stories to life through film. There’s no grainy images of embattled civil war soldiers; no black-and-white photos of U.S. segregation and the millions that marched against it.
And that’s the point.
“There’s a space for the history and talks about the Civil Rights Movement, the Underground Railroad — I think that’s important. But I want to make sure that we see these stories as evolving, which includes today, which includes tomorrow,” said Vaughn.
Vaughn said he made a conscious decision to present contemporary films to Yellowknife audiences in acknowledgment of Black History Month because “stories should move through time and space.”
By selecting the bright, bold and unabashedly different Sorry to Bother You, Vaughn hoped guests would gain a different viewpoint when looking at black history.
“I feel like a lot of these stories have repeated themselves throughout history and will repeat themselves, and sometimes you need a little shift in perspective, whether it’s just through an identity switch, through the eyes of a woman or a black person. (It) helps to kind of re-establish missing links and kind of figure out how we’re all connected in this,” said Vaughn.
By exploring the imaginative and the abstract, we can come to better understanding of the “solid,” said Vaughn. “The everyday life that we live together.”
Vaughn, who moved to Yellowknife from Montreal in 2016, draws parallels between his own experiences as a black man living in the North and the journeys of the black characters he explores through film and literature.
“My being here in Yellowknife is in a sense a sci-fi futuristic story,” he said, imagining out loud his grandmother’s reaction to learning he has settled North of 60.
“It’s important for (his family) to claim Yellowknife as our home, even though we are racialized settlers in this place, we also have a lot to give to Yellowknife,” said Vaughn. “We need to recognize that ‘hey, there were people here before us, but that we also have a space here to tell our stories and to make sure our voices are heard.”
Vaughn told Yellowknifer relocating to the North, away from his circle of like-minded friends in Montreal, pushed him to hear and learn from the different cultures and opposing viewpoints that make up the “fabric of Yellowknife.”
“I think it’s nice to see a community where you’re forced to bump into people that don’t look like you, don’t have the same ideology and I think it’s very healthy and Yellowknife should take advantage of that,” he said.
Vaughn will be showing another contemporary film, Brown Girl Begins, at the Yellowknife Public Library on Sunday.
Once the two-film series is complete, Vaughn has his sights set on continuing the program on a more sustained basis, with contributors from all cultural backgrounds.
“So it’s important to have the black identity but what is the black identity without the LGBTQ identity? Without the working class identity? There’s definitely room for intersectionality,” said Vaughn.
If the program is continued, expect the title “Black Futures Month,” to remain unchanged.
“It’s important to know as black folk where we have come from. It’s just as important to know where we’re going.”