In dystopian science fiction, one thing is clear: it doesn't end well for women or people of colour
But in the world of Brown Girl Begins, actor and filmmaker Sharon Lewis is showing a possibility beyond that
Last year, two films made by Canadian filmmakers, Blade Runner 2049 from Denis Villeneuve and Brown Girl Begins by Sharon Lewis, both presented their vision for what 2049 would look like — and they could not be more different.
Blade Runner 2049 transports us 30 years after Ridley Scott's version ended into an environmentally decimated world, one that utilizes androids similar to indentured servants. In the film, Agent K (Ryan Gosling) uncovers a secret that threatens a war between humans and their robot slaves known as replicants. The film has been celebrated for its lush production design, immersive sound design, masterful cinematography and adherence to the tone of the original cult classic Blade Runner. However, it has been largely criticized for creating a world devoid of people of colour and relegating the majority of its female characters to dehumanizing and sexist roles within the film.
Brown Girl Begins, set in Toronto in 2049, envisions a world that is also depleted in environmental resources. There is no water or electricity and food is scarce, but the film deviates from Blade Runner 2049 in more than one significant way — the film is lead by a strong female protagonist and Caribbean culture is front and centre.
From the villains to the heroes, main characters to small cameos, the world is populated with strong Black women and celebrates Caribbean traditions as a powerful agent for changing the course of the future of the city. This is what drove actor and filmmaker Sharon Lewis for over a decade to adapt Nalo Hopkinson's novel Brown Girl Begins to the screen.
I think if I had seen this film when I was growing up, it wouldn't have taken me so long to think it was okay to tell my stories.- Sharon Lewis, filmmaker
The film is rooted in Afrofuturism. While there are open interpretations for what that term means, for Sharon it is very much about exercising agency over our own stories and in turn re-writing our own destinies.
"For me Afrofuturism is simple," she says. "It's about — how are we going to see Black people in the future? When I did Brown Girl Begins, it was all about placing a young, Black Caribbean woman in the future in a position of power. That's very important. So Afrofuturism, for me, means in a position of power."
In the year 2049, Sharon imagined a universe that centre women and people of colour with Brown Girl Begins. Yes, even in a dystopian world, we still want to be a part of it.
Check out the video above to hear more about Sharon's vision for Black artists in the future. To see Brown Girl Begins, look for screenings across Canada during its Black Futures month tour.
Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.