Brown Girl Begins @ Montreal International Black Film Festival

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It is the year 2049 and in the city of Toronto the Rich have wrested control from the Good. Once in control they have a wall built. Those who are not wealthy are seen as a threat so they poor have been expelled. The poor are isolated in a place off the mainland of the city. This area is called The Burn. To eke out a survival the residents there they engage in bartering, farming and recycling.

There Mami (Shakura S’Aida – A Map of the World) is seen as the leader. She tells the tales of Caribbean spirits. 19-year-old Ti-Jeanne (Mouna Traore – from television’s Murdoch Mysteries) is looked upon as the woman who can save them all. To do so she must take her rightful place as a priestess. She is reluctant, to say the least, as doing so puts her life at risk. The plan is that she must resurrect ancient Caribbean spirits, an act that led to the death of Ti-Jeanne’s mother. Nothing can convince her to do this so to avoid it she runs away with her boyfriend Tony (Emmanuel Kabongo – from television’s 21 Thunder).

A drug lord assumes control using his henchman Crack to torment the residents of The Burn and prepare them for sale to the Rich as super slaves. This causes Ti-Jeanne to return and try to save the residents. If she herself can survive her encounter with the spirits.

For young black women there have been precious few characters represented on the big screen which they can recognize themselves in or model themselves after. Even fewer that involved flawed heroines. Less than that in the science fiction genre. In one fell swoop screenwriter/director Sharon Lewis (directed episodes of Property Brothers – Buying & Selling) has attempted to fill that void. Her hero is a young black woman. Black women are given a voice and becomes active participants in the world along with what is going on. A new story/reality is being conceived of. The story here is that a young black woman can be the one that save a post-apocalyptic world.

Every moment of the film, no matter what is happening, feels very real due to how Lewis has chosen to tell the story. It is all hyper-realism with the shaky camera and crystal clear visuals. Plus despite the fact that this is science fiction (or is it?) the main character of Ti-Jeanne is very human. Filled with doubts, flaws and plenty of conflicting emotions. All this is handled ably by the actress portraying her. The asks of her run the gamut from new love, fear, strength and on to sadness. She ticks them off as easily or naturally as you would items on a grocery list.

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