By TOM GODFREY
Two Toronto filmmakers and a York University academic are focusing this year on movies about the slave trade rather than the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Screenwriter-directors, Clement Virgo and Roy T. Anderson, were among a distinguished UN panel that took part in a roundtable discussion on the depiction of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in movies.
The event took place at the UN building in New York City and was attended by diplomats, politicians and other decision makers.
Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr., Ethiopian director Haile Gerima and New York African Film Festival organizer, Mahen Bonetti, were also among the panelists selected by the world body to examine the representation of slavery in film.
The production team of the upcoming mini-series “The Book of Negroes” was also on hand to introduce the series, which will premiere in Cannes next month. The series is being directed by Virgo and is based on a prize-winning book by Lawrence Hill, son of the late Black community historian, Dr. Daniel G. Hill.
“It was an honour and a privilege to sit on a UN panel to discuss how cinema has depicted slavery,” Virgo told Share by email after the event. “It was a passionate and lively discussion.”
Jamaican-born Virgo was director and executive producer of seven episodes of the hit TV show, “The Listener”. He and Anderson credited Gossett Jr. for helping them in their careers.
“His perspective as someone who has been in the film industry for 50 years and one of the stars of ‘Roots’ was very inspiring and edifying to the conversation,” Virgo said of Gossett Jr.
The September 4 event was part of a UN International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. There were events staged during the year, including a film festival on slavery with films by Black directors.
Anderson, who began his career in Parkdale as a stunt man, has worked on many films and directed the highly-acclaimed Akwantu: the Journey. He is working on another about Queen Nanny; Legendary Maroon Chieftainess.
“I was honoured to be on a distinguished panel with such luminaries,” said Anderson. “Even though I am not an expert on the subject of slavery, to add my voice to this discourse was something very special.”
Anderson spoke of the making of Akwantu and updated the audience on Queen Nanny, which will premiere at the UN next year.
Also taking part in UN activities was Professor Paul Lovejoy, who led a panel discussion the next day on teaching and learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
“It should all be taught as African history with Black history being a component,” said Lovejoy. “Every month should be Black history month for us.”
Lovejoy holds a Canada Research Chair in African Diaspora History and is director of York’s Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora.
He and Dr. Benjamin Bowser, of the University of California, presented and answered questions about their new book, The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery: New Directions in Teaching and Learning.
“I was there to present the book and share experiences in teaching about the slave trade and slavery around the world,” said Lovejoy, who is an expert in African history.
He was instrumental in the digitizing of thousands of artifacts and documents relating to African history that is available for research online at York’s Harriet Tubman Centre, which focuses on the history of the African diaspora and the movement of Africans to various parts of the world.
This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the UNESCO Slave Route Project that was launched in 1994 to break the silence surrounding slavery through educational materials. The theme this year is “Victory over Slavery: Haiti and Beyond”, that pays tribute to the fight against slavery in nations around the world.