Meet the director behind the Afrofuturistic film “Brown Girl Begins”

As I wrote earlier, Brown Girl Beginsinspired by the book Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson, will make its world premiere at the UrbanWorld Film Festival in New York Friday. For fans of the afrofuturist movement, this is the kind of film that’s been sorely needed; it combines classic fantasy and post-apocalyptic elements, as well as a focus on the religions and cultures of the African diaspora, particularly the Caribbean. In fact, its the first Caribbean-Canadian feature film ever made.

To quote the official synopsis:

It’s 2049 and Toronto the Good has been taken over by the wealthy. A wall has been built around the city and the poor are expelled to an island off the coast, known as The Burn. The segregated Burn dwellers have been forced to scrape out a living by bartering, recycling, and farming. Mami is the unspoken leader of the Burn, sharing her
Caribbean herb lore and leading her followers in an ancient spiritual practice. Ti-Jeanne turns 19 and the time has come for her to succeed her grandmother and become a Priestess. When Mami tries to prepare her to take part in the same possession ritual that killed her mother, Ti-Jeanne refuses. She flees with her young love Tony to the other side of the Burn in hopes of leaving the spirit business behind.

Until – out of the ashes of The Burn, a drug lord rises to take control of the remaining population and uses his right hand, Crack, to torment the Burn dwellers and prepare them for sale to mainlanders as smart slaves. When Crack begins torturing the children of the Burn, Ti-Jeanne can no longer refuse her other-worldly powers as a priestess. She is the only hope to save them. Can Ti-Jeanne handle the power of the spirits she has been so afraid of and save her people, or will her fear kill her?

So who’s exactly behind bringing this book to film form? Canadian director, TV host and activist Sharon Lewis. Lewis has worked in television, digital, print, film, and theater and has been an award-winning director, actor, producer and writer. She starred in the title role of the Cannes-nominated film Rude, the first all black above-the-line Canadian feature film, and she co-wrote, directed and produced the 1994 hit play Sistahs. As the host of CBC’s live political talk show Counterspin, she earned the highest ratings in the show’s history and became the first woman of color in Canada to host a national primetime talk show. She is also a Leo and Gemini-nominated television host for CBC’s interactive web show ZeD, and in 2005, Sharon won Best Sci-Fi Short for her directorial work on a short film she wrote and produced, Chains, which premiered at the Eugene International Film Festival.

Sharon Lewis

“I was studying directing in Los Angeles at UCLA when I walked into my favorite bookstore and saw my fellow artist and colleague Nalo Hopkinson’s award-winning novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, on the shelf,” said Lewis in a statement. “#blackgirlmagic unfolded from the moment I read the first page. I knew then that I had to bring this bold and unique story of a young black teenage heroine growing up in a post-apocalyptic Toronto to the screen.”

“Just like the epic journey of Ti-Jeanne, the heroine in the book, it has taken me time to acquire the creative skills, experience and resources needed to be ready,” she said. “…I am now part of a movement of people who have brought this project to life–all working their own magic. Ti-Jeanne. She is the future.”

Brown Girl Begins stars Mouna Traoré, Emmanuel Kabongo, Shakura S’Aida, Nigel Shawn Williams, Rachael Crawford, Hannah Chantée, award-winning Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and award-winning Trinidadian calypso artist David Rudder, billed as one of the most successful calypso artists of all time.

To get tickets to the UrbanWorld screening, visit urbanworld.org. Learn more about Brown Girl Begins through its website and Twitter page.

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