Few filmmakers have captured the black experience in Canada as well and as often as writer-director Clement Virgo. From his earliest short films to boxing drama Poor Boy’s Game, Virgo has shared stories that would have otherwise remained unheard.
It’s that dedication to uncovering new tales that’s made him such an ardent supporter of Black History Month, which begins today with events planned across North America. “I think it’s a collective history month,” explains the director. “The black-Canadian experience is just a part of that.”
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That experience, though, is something that’s left out of many current school curricula.
“Oftentimes, we don’t learn about a lot of people’s history or a lot of history in general. Black History Month gives people an opportunity to say ‘I didn’t know that.’ Every year I learn something new.”
The love of learning, he says, is part of the driving force behind the success of The Book of Negroes, for which Virgo and author Lawrence Hill co-wrote a script for a movie adaptation.
“A lot of people - black, white or whatever - pick that book up and it’s so well researched, it’s got so much information that we didn’t know.”
A Jamaican immigrant who moved to Regent Park with his family when he was 11 years old, Virgo is a self-described “curious artist,” who loves speaking to other filmmakers. Last February he sat down with Norman Jewison and Precious director Lee Daniels to talk about the representation of black people in film. And last week at the Varsity Cinemas, he had the chance to speak with Spike Lee.
“She’s Gotta Have It was a big influence on me as a young person trying to figure out what they wanted to do with their life,” he says. “Up until that point film was mainly a hobby. It was quite inspiring. And it ushered in another wave of black cinema.”