This lost 1956 CBC show about race is as relevant as ever — so a Toronto artist is reimagining it

When she discovered copies of the show had disappeared, artist Deanna Bowen decided to stage it herself so she could share its lessons.

When she discovered copies of the show had disappeared, artist Deanna Bowen decided to stage it herself

What a live performance of a lost 1956 CBC show has to say about race relations in Canada today

5 years ago
Duration 3:55
When she discovered copies of the show had disappeared, artist Deanna Bowen decided to stage it herself.

Deanna Bowen — equal parts artist, genealogist and historian — has been creating work about slavery, oppression and her family's migration from the American south to Canada for over 20 years. Through her work she has drawn a venerable family tree, cataloging political conflicts and traumas through deeply personal connections. Her most recent work, however, was inspired from a fairly unlikely source: a CBC show from the 1950s called GM Presents.

Deanna's great-uncle Herman Risby, an actor and musician, played a supporting role in one episode of that CBC series. Entitled "The Long Doorway," the episode was originally written by Stanley Mann and aired in 1956. It tells the story of a black legal aid lawyer who is tasked to represent a white University of Toronto student who violently assaults a fellow student and black basketball player. 

I think I was the first person to ask for this script off the CBC microfiche.- Deanna Bowen, artist, genealogist and historian

Instead of diminishing the black experience within Canada with the suggestion of how much worse it is south of the border, the episode addresses the racial divide from an unapologetically Canadian perspective, unfolding across Toronto locations from Roncesvalles to the Don Jail. 

"It's not very often that Canadian television — Canadian anything, really — takes up race in its own place," Bowen says.

Deanna Bowen. (CBC Arts)

However, as Deanna contacted the CBC to view that episode, it was nowhere to be found. Instead, she uncovered the script from the Queen's University archives — and using the original text and set decoration notes, she reimagined it using an all-black cast and will be deconstructing it through live readings at Mercer Union.

"It's a really great way to have a conversation about how long this has been going on in this country," she says. "There's definitely a time to have this conversation: we're in it, right now."

Watch Exhibitionists online or on Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) on CBC Television.


Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.


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