Documentaries

Black History Month: 8 Canadian documentaries to watch this month

Stream them all for free on CBC Gem

Stream them all for free on CBC Gem

A collage of three images. On the right, a woman (Amanda Parris) with long black hair piled on her head sits in front of a bright yellow graphic. A green jacket has been illustrated on top of her. In the middle, illustration of a silhouette of man holding one finger up to his mouth with a man running in the moonlight in the background. On the right, a black and white archive photo of a young woman (Valerie Jerome) sprinting.
Now streaming on CBC Gem: For the Culture with Amanda Parris, Secret Agents of the Underground Railroad and the ‘More Than A Game’ episode of Black Life: Untold Stories. (CBC)

February is Black History Month, a time to honour the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities. This collection of Canadian documentary films and series highlights eight stories about the Black experience in this country, from an archaeological dig that uncovers how enslaved people were guided to freedom in Canada through an upscale hotel in Niagara Falls, to a cross-country journey that pulls back the curtain on racism in Canada. 

Watch these documentaries, and hundreds more, for free on CBC Gem. 

Black Life: Untold Stories

Black Life: Untold Stories illuminates the struggles and triumphs of Black people in Canada while celebrating the contributions of both famous and lesser-known Black Canadians. Epic in scope, Black Life is an eight-part series that spans more than 400 years with an eye toward contemporary issues, culture, politics, music, art and sports.

Secret Agents of the Underground Railroad

Host Anthony Morgan joins an archaeological excavation at Heritage Park, a remarkable site in Niagara Falls that was home to the Cataract House, an upscale hotel that stood between 1825 and 1945.

The hotel was considered the most important station of the Underground Railroad on the Niagara Frontier: a Black Resistance operation run by the hotel's staff, who guided enslaved people to freedom in Canada. 

Morgan joins a team of archaeologists and community leaders as they recover essential but forgotten history, uncovering the lives and operations of some of the Underground Railroad's greatest unsung heroes.

For the Culture with Amanda Parris

Amanda Parris leaves the wars raging on social media to create space for urgent and provocative conversations that centre Blackness and Black folks around the world. 

Parris — who is the host, creator and executive producer of the series — explores a different topic in each of the show's six episodes. While producing the series, Parris travelled to six countries, visiting with people at home, sitting in on their classes and eating with them at restaurants. By assembling a mix of guests from across the Black diaspora, For the Culture with Amanda Parris examines some of the most important issues facing Black folks today from a range of perspectives. 

Love, Leymo

Leymo Mohammed was 17 years old when his mother passed away. She was a personal support worker and contracted COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. A young Black man from St. James Town, Toronto, Leymo and his 12-year-old sister were left entirely on their own.

Two years after her death, Leymo narrates a letter to her in Love, Leymo, updating her on his struggles, his accomplishments, his goals and the importance of his friends as he comes to understand the world around him.

Dear Jackie

After a stint with the minor-league Montreal Royals, Jackie Robinson was the first Black man to play in Major League Baseball in 1946. A key contributor to the civil rights movement in the United States, when Robinson broke the colour barrier in professional baseball, the impossible seemed possible in a segregated North America. 

All Montrealers, Black and white, cheered him on and treated him like a hero. But did the white majority use the historic moment to perpetuate the myth of a post-racial society?

Patty vs. Patty

The story of Toronto's bizarre 1985 "patty wars," when Jamaican-Canadian bakers went head-to-head with the federal government over the name of their beloved beef patty.

The Meat Inspection Act had determined a beef patty to be what goes in a hamburger — containing only meat and seasoning and couldn't be encased in dough or a crust. A Jamaican patty — widely known as a flaky pastry with a spiced beef filling — didn't meet the criteria.

Officials threatened fines if the shops didn't comply by changing their menus, packaging and signs to, well, anything except "patty."

The vendors resisted. They refused to sell the patty under any other name. And so the patty wars began.

The Myth of the Black Woman 

Le Mythe de la Femme Noire, or The Myth of the Black Woman, explores the ways Black women have historically been portrayed in society, from the hypersexual Jezebel to the doting mammy. 

The film features interviews with 21 Black women, including experts, artists and activists, who share the challenges that such representations have brought into their lives.

The Skin We're In

Urgent, controversial, and undeniably honest, The Skin We're In is a wake-up call to complacent Canadians. Racism is here. It is everywhere. It is us and we are it. 

Following celebrated journalist Desmond Cole as he researches his hotly anticipated book, this documentary from acclaimed director Charles Officer pulls back the curtain on racism in Canada. Cole travels across the country, meeting with Black Canadians in big cities and small towns, and listens to their stories. 


A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.
(CBC)

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories 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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