“We want people to understand what inclusion really means.”
As has been the case for most festivals and events over the course of the last year, the 9th annual Toronto Black Film Festival (TBFF) is running its programming entirely online this month. Until February 21, you can watch its roster of riveting cinematic offerings — as well as a number of musical performances, workshops and panels — from the comfort of your couch.
One scheduled chat, which launches February 12 on Facebook at 4pm EST, will feature a wealth of locally-based fashion talent: Stylist and founder/president of The Black Fashion and Beauty Gala Awards, Ann-Marie Mystique Daniel-Barker; mycoatisblue’s founder/creative director, Natasha Patten; M3 Mode Masculine Montreal founder, Yves Ulysses; designer Rhowan James; and designer/developer/blogger, Kate Pierre.
The “Fashion ‘Oh So White’ Industry” panel discussion will be moderated by Catherine Addai, founder and creative director of the Toronto-based lifestyle brand Kaela Kay. “Participating in the panel discussion was important to me because being a Black woman in the fashion industry, I’ve faced many challenges, especially around representation,” she says about why she signed on to speak with her peers as part of TBFF. “There was a lot of feedback for me when I first started my business around where to fit me in — as if the industry is already set and I needed to mold to accommodate. So, [it’s] interesting to hear the perspectives of other Black fashion entrepreneurs on their challenges, triumphs and thoughts.”
Echoing this notion, TBFF’s founder — filmmaker/actress/entrepreneur Fabienne Colas — felt it was vital to include the perspective of Black creatives in all arts-based areas during the festival’s schedule. “For the first time in history, a Black fashion designer won an Oscar for Black Panther,” she proudly recalls about Ruth E. Carter’s win in 2019. “There’s no film without a costume design department. They’re industries that work hand-in-hand…. [And] it’s the same Black battle about a lack of representation.”
Colas highlights that while the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last year may have brought about “cosmetic” changes within creative sectors — that is, hiring Black models as part of a PR move, or the launch of paltry social media campaigns — there is so far to go in terms of BIPOC voices being brought to the table to weigh in and make significant (and much-needed) changes to all industries.
“Too often we hear that brands want to celebrate Black culture, but they don’t have anyone involved in the brand’s [many] departments that are part of the culture they want to celebrate,” she says. “And that’s what results in cultural appropriation. We want people to understand what inclusion really means.”
Panelist Natasha Patten agrees. “It’s where people are making the changes that matters to me,” she says. “A brand saying they’re going to hire more Black models is different from a brand saying they’re going to hire a Black creative director, or [them] having a Black person at the top making decisions.”
For it is decision-making power that lies at the heart of diversity and inclusivity being truly meaningful concepts. “Inclusion is a decision,” Colas says. “It’s not organic — especially when the people making decisions aren’t people of colour.” She highlights the push for parity in the representation of women in higher echelons of power in the past few decades, and how that movement largely left women of colour and members of the LGBTQ+ community out. “We need to be mindful of intersectionality,” she says.
While the February 12 panel discussion will delve into “what’s not working currently, the state of affairs, and how we can move forward better,” as Colas puts it, the larger idea is to motivate concrete action to take place. “We’ve never had a lack of discussion,” she points out. “We’ve been talking about these questions for years and years. I think everyone knows what the problems are. It’s about who is around the table discussing them, and how they take action. And it’s important for everyone to listen to these conversations. Not just Black people, but non-Black people so they can understand how they can be part of the solution.”