'If Canadian culture isn't going to speak their names, I'll do it from a hilltop'

For filmmaker Karen Chapman, there’s an urgency in telling the stories of Black Canadian writers and artists.

‘Creation Insists’ episode of new CBC documentary series focuses on Black Canadian artists and writers

‘If Canadian culture isn't going to speak their names, I'll do it from a hilltop’ | Black Life: Untold Stories

5 months ago
Duration 2:15
Karen Chapman, director of “Creation Insists,” the fifth episode of CBC docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories, on what she wants audiences to take away from the documentary. Watch the full docuseries on CBC Gem.

Black Life: Untold Stories is an epic eight-part documentary series that reframes the rich and complex histories of Black people in Canada over 400 years. Watch now on CBC Gem. Each episode is directed by a different director who shares their experience in a series of video essays.

For filmmaker Karen Chapman, there's an urgency in telling the stories of Black Canadian writers and artists.

"There's a long history of assuming that Black people have no voice, have nothing to say and have no ability of participating in the larger discourse about what Black life should be," said the director of "Creation Insists," the arts and literature episode of the new CBC docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories.

The episode explores the stories of painters Edward Mitchell Bannister and Edith Hester McDonald-Brown, filmmakers Sylvia Hamilton and Clement Virgo, and writers M. NourbeSe Philip and Austin Clarke. 

"I wanted to create something that could encapsulate the art and literature and the fruits of the labour of so many artists across this country in the hopes that maybe something stuck," Chapman said. 

"As uncomfortable as those stories may make people feel, they're beautiful in their existence and their resilience. And if Canadian culture isn't going to speak their names, I'll do it from a hilltop, because they're not just making work … they're building communities everywhere they go," Chapman said. 

"I hope the impact for the art and literature episode is one that serves as its own archive —

as a way to answer the constant erasure of Black artists and accomplishment in this country.

And to inspire … to ignite fires in people to push boundaries, to be brave and to let art [not only] be a conduit [for] change but also for joy."

About director Karen Chapman

Born to Guyanese parents, Karen Chapman is an alumnus of Emily Carr University, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (formerly The Banff Centre), Women in the Director's Chair, the CaribbeanTales Incubator, HotDocs's Doc Accelerator, TIFF Filmmaker Lab and the 2019 TIFF Accelerator. 

Chapman has made VR experiences, a museum installation, television episodes and 50 short films.

Chapman's CBC Short Doc, ​Walk Good, won Women in Film and Television - Toronto's 2017 Audience Choice Award at their annual showcase, and her short, Lesson Injustice​ won the Best Screenplay Award the year after. In 2018, she also completed the Cineplex Entertainment Film Program Directors' Lab at the Canadian Film Centre and was ​named​ one of five filmmakers to watch by ​Playback magazine. 

Chapman's love story, ​Essequibo Rapture,​ won the Caribbean Film Academy's international screenwriting competition and in 2019, received funding from Bell Media's Harold Greenberg Fund via the Shorts-to-Features Program. Her VR experience​, They Should be Flowers, premiered at HotDocs that same year, and was nominated for a 2020 Canadian Screen Award for Best Immersive Experience, Non-Fiction. Her short film​ Measure also premiered at TIFF in 2019, after which Chapman was selected for the 2020 Hollywood Foreign Press Association residency program. 

Chapman's Quiet Minds Silent Streets premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and received the award for Best Documentary at Canadian Film Fest.

Chapman is currently working on her first feature film, Village Keeper supported by the Telefilm Talent to Watch Program, The Canadian Arts Council and the CBC.

"Creation Insists" is streaming now on CBC Gem. Watch it on CBC-TV on Nov. 22 at 9 p.m. (9:30 p.m. NT).

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from features on anti-Black racism to success stories from within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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