Opinion pieces are spreading like wildfire and now that I’ve had the opportunity to read from and (tweet) directly with the Director/Producer of This Is North Preston, a addendum to my original essay is required.
Since I posited the importance of context, I’ll extend some of my own. So, as said before, I saw the film at the Canadian Film Festival in Toronto with a mixed crowd of Nova Scotian family members, Scotian expats, North Preston natives and many strangers. I was seated in the front row of the middle section with the majority of my fellow movie goers at my back. During certain scenes I could hear the sighs and the people exclaim “Oh my God!” and the “Where the f*ck is THIS place?” “That’s CRAZY” and worse, the laughter when Ms. Downey was put on camera in what should have been the comfort and the relative safety of her own home. It was downright hurtful and I felt sick when it was over.
We stayed through to the end of the live commentary from the cast and crew and I distinctly remember director Jaren Hayman clearly stating that prior to this project, he really didn’t know such a place existed on the East Coast. I remember thinking to myself, “How’d they let this interloper pillage our community like this?”. A few of us stopped to speak together outside of the theatre and we were equally disturbed. We felt so exposed and ashamed, we were sad. People were laughing at us and confused at our culture and how we live and no doubt some went home possibly believing every negative thing they had ever thought about Black People.
I say ALL THAT to finally state the obvious. It’s one thing to deal with our own when being forced to hold up the proverbial mirror, it’s an entirely different thing when the trouble is amplified by an outsider and a white man at that.
I’m not pulling the “race card”. I’m half white and I have enough sense to know that it’d be problematic and wrong for *ME* with my light skinned self who was born and raised in North Preston to cast my people in a disrespectful, anti-black and discriminative shadow. So to invite a stranger in and allow their media vehicle to do it is sacrilege.
“I was drawn to our characters stories bc they owned their life decisions while also intelligently exploring the cycle that contributed to their upbringing. The film isn’t perfect and it’s not the entire North Preston story, but it’s THEIR North Preston which deserved to be heard.” I thought this film is a documentary based on real life individuals but Hayman seems to view our people as characters. NONE of these *people* are characters. They are real life human beings and even worse, the film encouraged many of them to depict themselves and each other as caricatures. This is a problem.
I personally am pleased with much of the dialog which has sprung from the overwhelming reaction to this film. We’ve been able to agree that the name of the film is what’s majorly problematic and that the reality of the content requires immediate redress. We’ve accepted that the reaction of community members is justified. We’re growing, we’re learning and more importantly, as a community, we’ve been called to task and we’re talking and planning for next steps. Some of us are hunkering down and huddling toward building solutions and realizing that it’s our onus to do more to protect our legacy. There is a reason for everything and I believe that this is the reason so I’ve made my peace with it. I am concerned with the lack of remorse or better yet, understanding by the films director.
Hayman insists that this film was indeed an exploration into North Preston’s troubled past and not Blacksploitation.
We beg to differ.
Spending a year of my life doing this project with money raised privately and no broadcast or streaming deal would be a terrible way to try to advance ones career. We explored tough problems, but also history, social cultural issues, opportunity and decades of systemic racism.
— Jaren Hayman (@JarenHayman) May 21, 2019
I don’t know Mr. Hayman personally. Other than what I’ve been able to ascertain online about his professional achievements, I know next to nothing about him but I am deeply concerned that in 2019 when a white man is being asked to consider whether or not his actions were exploitative toward the black community, he abjectly denies all wrong doing and instead is praised for a job well done. I question the professional integrity of someone who refuses to listen.
While us community members are faced with picking up the pieces and putting our relationship and motives in check, Hayman gets to climb back into his ivory tower and ride off into the Western sunset leaving the ashes and dust to settle in our community and with ‘This Is North Preston’ under his belt as a trophy.
“Systemic Racism” are simply buzz words from someone who is sheltered by his white privilege. You can easily deny that you’re actually *still* quite ignorant about North Preston & you had the audacity to assume we wouldn’t notice how terrible you framed us ALL in this film.
— Rachy007 (@Blacklit101) May 23, 2019
At this point it is what it is. I really wish that the film participants had their own independent PR and legal consultants to properly advise and coach them on what content they should divulge and how prior to going into production and at least when it was time for editing. I trust that they’ll do different going forward. I have no doubt of the trajectory of success that they’re all on and I wish them the best. These are the success stories our North Preston needs to continue to thrive and we all salute you!
Me personally, I’ll be working with my peers to build a Bursary Fund for our North Preston Youth in hopes to help make post-secondary education more attainable through being more affordable. That’s the impression the film left on me so, in reality it’s all been worth the “drama”.
I don’t think Hayman is a bad guy, in fact I think he’s demonstrated his ability and potential as a director and producer! I think we’ll be hearing more from this man in the future but I do think it’s unprofessional to be arrogant in the face of justified confrontation. I believe he’s simply a man who’s currently on the defense and with lots to learn about how his white privilege can be best utilized and how professional allyship works.
If the experience isn’t perceived by your audience as quid pro quo, it’s exploitation. Simple as that. We’re trying to teach you. So, in the words of the great Lyricist Kendrick Lamar, “Sit Down. Be Humble”
Light Reflected Is Enlightenment Infinite