Arts

12 of the best Black Cancon films you can stream for free right now

From dramas to short docs, there's plenty to binge. Find these titles on YouTube, CBC Gem and the NFB website.

From dramas to short docs, there's plenty to binge

Nurse. Fighter. Boy. is now streaming on CBC Gem. (CBC )

Black Light is a weekly column by Governor General Award-winning writer Amanda Parris that spotlights, champions and challenges art and popular culture that is created by Black people and/or centres Black people.

The entire world is in lockdown, and a lot of us are turning more frequently to streaming entertainment. Even before COVID-19, the majority of Canadians were watching movies from home — and with a plethora of options available, I want to encourage you to take this time to check out some of the short films, documentaries, and features created by Black-Canadian filmmakers. 

Although this country is great at expressing national pride during hockey season and the Olympics, we have yet to build a culture that mobilizes to support our own film industry. According to a Telefilm report on audiences in Canada, English-speaking Canadians rarely know when there are homegrown movies to support. They have a hard time even recognizing which films are Canadian. 

So that's where I come in. I've identified 12 great films (and if you've seen all of those, there are 14 bonus picks at the end). They are all Canadian, they can all be watched from the comfort of your homes — and the cherry on top? I've only chosen movies that you can watch for free. 

There's really no reason not to tune in.

Across the Line (CBC Gem)

Director: Director X

This feature-length film tells the story of a young Black hockey player from Preston, N.S. who dreams of going to the NHL. But simmering racial tensions at his school — and an older brother's involvement in illegal activities — threaten his future. Across the Line is the debut feature from Director X, one of the most celebrated music video directors in the world. It was also written by Floyd Kane, the man behind the groundbreaking legal series Diggstown, which gave Canada its first Black female lead in a television drama. Across the Line is a rare Canadian film in its attempt to centre the anger and racism rarely acknowledged in this country. It also features early performances from two of Canada's most exciting new actors, brothers Stephan James and Shamier Anderson.

Black Soul (NFB)

Director: Martine Chartrand

From Black Soul. (NFB)

This beautiful animated short follows a young boy on an epic journey as he learns the history and legacy of his ancestors through the stories of his grandmother. Without words, this award-winning film uses music and images to tell the history of Indigenous and African diasporic people. It's a stunningly poetic piece of work that will hopefully capture the imagination of kids and adults alike.

Christopher Changes His Name (NFB)

Director: Cilia Sawadogo

This adaptation of the children's book by Itah Sadu is the story of a young boy who wants to change his name. Sadu herself is the very enjoyable narrator, and this fun and colourful short film keeps the simplicity of the book while adding some extra comedic embellishments through the animation. It will hopefully keep your kids entertained for its six-minute run time.

Deeply Rooted (CBC Gem, YouTube)

Director: Cazhhmere

Watch Deeply Rooted on CBC Gem. (CBC)

Black Canadians are frequently asked, "Where are you from?" Within the question is an assumption: you or your parents must have arrived from somewhere else. In this short documentary, filmmaker Cazhhmere goes back home to Halifax to answer that question — and reveals the history of a family that has been living on this land for more than two centuries. Her uncles and aunts tell stories of a family that served multiple times in the Canadian military, became hall of fame boxers, opened legendary nightclubs, and did it all while dealing with the kind of racial violence and segregation we rarely hear about in Canada.

Home Again (CBC Gem)

Director: Sudz Sutherland

After spending most of their lives in different countries, three individuals from different cities are deported back to Jamaica, a place they haven't lived since they were babies. Home Again doesn't pull any punches, and this drama goes to every extreme to illustrate just how challenging their struggle is. The characters deal with drug addiction, sexual assault, gang violence, homelessness. I have to warn you, it's an intense watch. However, there are moments that make it worth the trip: a quiet critique of resort culture; stylish sneak peeks into the dancehall reggae scene; and a moment of respite within a Rastafarian retreat.

Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community (NFB)

Directors: Jennifer Hodge and Roger McTair

Scene from Home Feeling: Stuggle for a Community. (NFB)

I've watched this documentary more times than I can count. It's a fascinating look at police profiling in Toronto's Jane and Finch community back in the early '80s. And — surprise, surprise — little has changed since the film's release four decades ago. Beyond being a fascinating time capsule of then-recently arrived Caribbean communities in Toronto, this film provides incredibly intimate access to the police services. The filmmakers brilliantly let the officers illustrate through their words and actions their prejudicial biases. The doc explores how these dangerous attitudes have become embedded in a system that consistently empowers and affirms those perspectives.

Jean of the Joneses (CBC Gem)

Director: Stella Meghie

We meet Jean (Taylour Paige) when she's drifting aimlessly through life, casually stalking her ex-boyfriend by day and avoiding her writing deadlines by night. Then one day, her estranged grandfather shows up the family's front door...and dies. His death opens a Pandora's box of family secrets that Jean works to uncover while falling for the paramedic who picks up her grandfather's body. It's a wholly original, charming, and beautifully shot film by Stella Meghie, one of Canada's most exciting talents. Watch this if you want to laugh, but know that you may be in danger of falling in love with the stunning lead actress and/or her enviable wardrobe.

Kettle (CBC Gem)

Director: Lucius Dechausay

From Kettle. Find the short doc on CBC Gem. (Lucius Dechausay)

The 2010 G20 summit in Toronto marked a historic milestone that had very little to do with the meeting itself — it became the site for the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. This short documentary (which was created by my friend and CBC Arts colleague Lucius Dechausay) tells the story of several people who became unintentional witnesses and victims to one of the most aggressive forms of policing strategies: kettling. It's a terrifying look at the way everyday citizens can be transformed into threats through the eyes of the state, and a somewhat timely examination of how quickly our everyday freedom can be taken away.

Long Time Comin' (NFB)

Director: Dionne Brand

This film is a mediation on the political and creative missions of two Black lesbian artists working and creating in early '90s Toronto: visual artist Grace Channer and musician Faith Nolan. It's an intriguing time capsule, and a couple of moments stand out in my mind: a scene from a Take Back the Night march and another at a concert where women dominate the stage and the audience. (To be honest, I don't think I saw a man in this entire film.) The movie is also a rare opportunity to hear two Black Canadian women articulate their passion for creating art rooted in social justice as they tell their coming out stories and talk about the challenges they face from mainstream institutions that deny them funding and tokenize their work. 

Nancy's Workshop (CBC Gem, YouTube)

Director: Aïcha Diop 

Scene from Nancy's Workshop. (CBC Arts)

This short documentary welcomes audiences into a monthly workshop that hairstylist Nancy Falaise holds for young Black girls at her salon in Montreal. Falaise teaches the girls practical skills like detangling and provides them with intangible affirmations about the beauty of their curl patterns. It's impossible to watch without falling in love with the girls, whose insecurity is trumped only by their earnestness. I have to admit I shed more than a few tears watching this one.

Nurse.Fighter.Boy (CBC Gem)

Director: Charles Officer

Karen LeBlanc is the nurse, Clark Johnson is the fighter. And when the two meet there is an immediate attraction. The boy (Daniel J. Gordon) is the nurse's son, who is obsessed with music, magic, and a desire to take care of his mother, who suffers from sickle cell anemia. There is a melancholy to this film, but the magic found throughout creates a fascinating otherworldly sensibility in a movie filled with beautiful shots and an incredible soundtrack.

The Haircut (CBC Gem, YouTube)

Director: Maya Annik Bedward

Scene from the Haircut. (CBC)

This short documentary tells the story of Bedward's father, a charismatic man who likes taking pictures of his wife in the garden — and hates to cut his hair. Although the story is whimsical in nature, Bedward skillfully utilizes her father's reluctance as a springboard to explore the kind of hidden trauma that may exist for someone who's grown up in an all-white community. Something as seemingly superficial as hair is tied into much deeper themes in this heartwarming portrait. 

When you're done watching those films, here are 14 more! 

A Memory Forgotten: A Generation Sacrificed (Director: Martine Duviella)
Black Mother Black Daughter (Directors: Sylvia Hamilton and Claire Prieto)
Freedom Summer (Director: Lu Asfaha)
Invisible Essence: The Little Prince (Director: Charles Officer)
Journey to Justice (Director: Roger McTair)
Mr. Jane and Finch (Director: Ngardy Conteh George)
Older Stronger Wiser (Director: Claire Prieto)
Sisters in the Struggle (Directors: Dionne Brand and Ginny Stikeman)
Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia (Director: Sylvia Hamilton)
Speakers for the Dead (Directors: Jennifer Holness and David (Sudz) Sutherland)
Tales of Sand and Snow (Director: Hyacinthe Combrary)
The Road Taken (Director: Selwyn Jacob)
Unarmed Verses (Director: Charles Officer)
Where I Belong (Director: Arinze Eze)

About the Author

Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays, watches too many movies and defends Beyonce against all haters. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.

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