CHRISTENE BROWNE - ROLE MODEL & AMBASSADOR
Officially Inducted into the “National Wall of Role Models” on June 7, 2014 ( See full list www.BlackCanadianAwards.com
BIO: Born in St. Kitts, Browne moved with her family to Regent Park, Canada’s oldest and largest low-income community in 1970. It was in that Toronto community where the seeds of Browne’s filmmaker career were planted. There she participated and then lead the Regent Park Video workshop project and made a number of socially and culturally relevant videos. It was during this time Browne decided to go to film school. She attended the film program at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute. Her very first two films “Brothers in Music”, a film about two struggling jazz musicians and “No Choices, a 6-minute film that looked at the abortion issue and how it relates to women living in poverty debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1991 and launched Browne’s film career.
From that time onward Browne has consistently produced work that has tackled hard-hitting topics such as poverty, the welfare system, social inequalities. She has worked independently and has also done projects with the National Film Board of Canada and the Canadian Broadcast Corporation Her films have won numerous awards and have been screened and broadcasted internationally. In 1999 Browne completed the semi-autobiographical film “Another Planet”, her first dramatic feature film and the first feature film to be directed by a Black woman in Canada.
In 2007 Browne completed “Speaking in Tongues: The History of Language”, a groundbreaking documentary series that looks at the History of Language from prehistoric time to the present day. Noam Chomsky is one of the many experts that took part in this series. Most recently Browne was awarded the 2011 Documentary Filmmaker prize at the Women’s International Film and Television Showcase Visionary Awards. Her first novel Two Women, a cautionary tale about two women who share the same soul will be released on September 13th, 2013.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself?
In addition, to be a fiercely committed artist and loving mother and lover of stories, I was once in a band – called People of Promise where I performed my poetry and the work of poets from the African Diaspora. I was in both the orchestra (first violin) and concert band (alto clarinet) in high school. I love opera as much as I love jazz. I quit film school after two years and started making films.
What is your inspiration?
I am inspired by the complexities of and wonders of life and all those who dare to go their own way and forge their own paths. From a very early age, I’ve been able to motivate myself. The only motivation I’ve ever needed was the desire to reach certain goals. Being motivated by the challenge of creating something out of nothing and turning an idea into a living and breathing organism has always been all I needed.
How did you get to where you are now? What more is there to come?
I’ve got to where I am today by working very hard work, fighting for what I believe in, never giving up or faltering and believing in myself and the goals I set for myself. There is plenty more films and books to come. I see my work taking on more of a personal tone in the future.
What I would like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered for being a good mother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, a creative thinker, an artistic force and talent, someone who has made a contribution to our understating of ourselves and how we are more alike than unalike. As the first Black woman to direct a feature film in Canada I would also liked to be remembered as a pioneer of sorts.
How do I balance work, family, friends and leisure?
Since I have always worked from home, balancing work and family has come very easy. Placing a priority on the need to socialize and having fun has always made the leisure aspect of my life almost second nature.
What’s my favorite food, book, music, movie?
My favorite food would have to be all or any type of tropical fruit. My favorite books would have to be anything by Jamaica Kincaid, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Nikolai Gogol. I have so many favorite movies and the list is always changing and growing but I am particularly fond of all of Ousmane Sembene’s (father of African cinema) films and early Russian cinema.
What my experience as a Black Person in Canada?
My experience as a Black person in Canada is that I have not always felt like I’m being seen, heard or being taken seriously and that my realities are still not being reflected in mainstream media. One of the reasons I wanted to become a filmmaker had to do with this very fact but after more than 20 years there has not been very much change or improvement and I don’t see much change on the horizon. I guess the solution to the problem would just keep pushing for some kind of change at various levels.
What is the Black community doing right and wrong in Canada?
I’m not certain if the Black community is very cohesive in Canada – since we all come from such diverse backgrounds. I think maybe if there was more commutation and sharing across cultural lines this would improve. What we are doing right is that there are a number of Blacks who have been able to obtain an important post in the government and elsewhere and when one of us successes we all succeed. What we are doing wrong is not banding together as other communities have. Violent crime among Black youth is also very troubling. We have to be more vigilant as parents and more active as citizens to help change the systemic barriers that exist for our youth.
Do we have musical artist as good as those in USA?
I do believe we have musical artists as good as those in USA. Drake, Divine Brown, Jully Black (who has an incredible voice) are three great examples.
What’s your understanding of Black History in Canada?
My understanding of Black History in Canada is that it wasn’t very different from the history of Black people south of the border. There was slavery down there - there was slavery up here. Black people were oppressed down there and here as well. Racism still remains down there – the same here. In both places, Blacks have had to endure incredible hardships but have overcome a tremendous amount.