• Micheal Peterson

Meet the Creator: New Short Film Exposes Anti-Blackness at Work

Here’s what we know about Mariam and what she’s all about.

Mariam Barry is a multidisciplinary artist of mixed heritage from Norway and The Gambia. As a creative, her approach to art-making is intersectional and multi-hyphenate. Mariam is an actor, writer, and producer in both theatre and film. She is a former artistic producer of Killjoy Theatre, an intersectional feminist theatre collective, and the co-creator of Breaking Borders, a performance crew for immigrant, newcomer and refugee artists. Mariam has a BFA in Acting from UBC and loves making art that celebrates the diversity of the Black experience. Her favourite acting credits include Reframed (Electric Theatre Company), bcHub Artist Ensemble (b current theatre), Ashbridge (CBC), Snowpiercer (Netflix), 'da Kink In My Hair (Envision Festival/Boca del Lupo). Mariam is also an arts facilitator and film editor for Reel Youth, where she supports the production of short films, intergenerational documentaries, and music videos in youth communities across Canada.

Mariam's role in RISE: Actor, Creator, Screenwriter and Producer.

MP: You’re working on something called RISE? What’s that? Can you describe it to me as if I knew nothing about it?

MB: Sure! RISE is a short film I wrote and produced for Bakau Consulting (premiering January 28th as part of Stratagem: Black Queer Futures). The project was commissioned by Bakau as part of their Unlearning Anti-Blackness workshop. The vision of the film came from Cicely, who wanted a video for their Racial Justice workshop. The idea is that the film will help participants elevate their understanding of what anti-Blackness and microaggressions look like in the workplace. RISE is, therefore, a film made to be paused, discussed, and replayed. I hope that it generates dynamic conversations about the many barriers felt by Black employees in the workforce. The film itself is set in Vancouver and portrays real microaggressions I, and other Black women have experienced at work. That's what makes this project so special to me – it's steeped in truth – and gives audiences an authentic look at how even the most well-meaning folks can perpetuate violence. It was important for both Cicely and me that this film was undeniably Canadian and nuanced. That it doesn't absolve Canada from racism and anti-Blackness, as these systems of oppression are alive and well on these stolen and colonized territories.

Two Black folks against a backdrop of a sunset and mountains in Vancouver
Photo by @instadoode

MP: What or who inspired the project?

MB: In many ways, this film is inspired by my own experiences in Vancouver. In general, Black folks have endless stories they could tell about the ways they've experienced discrimination. But what lit the spark for me was the opportunity to tell a Black-centred story that's specific to Vancouver. That in itself was a liberating act considering the systemic ways our presence is erased in this city. The ability to bring together incredible artists in our community inspired me to shape the narrative as I did. Collaborating with trailblazing creatives such as rap artist Missy D and cinematographer David Markwei was a joy! There is so much excellence in our community, so I wanted to create something that celebrated our local Black talent.

MP: What are your hopes for it? What is your ideal audience? What about the outcome?

MB: I hope Black audiences feel validated and seen. That's always my vision with my art. Microaggressions are something people of colour experience every day as normalized acts of violence. I hope this sheds light on our experiences and gives BIPOC folks the courage to bring this issue up with their employers. It was personally really powerful for me to capture these moments and represent parts of my own experiences on screen.

MP: What’s the most important takeaway you hope people will walk away with?

MB: That in no way does this story represent every Black person's experience. We are not a monolith, and this story was specifically told with the intent to generate discussion. Some folks will see the barriers clearly, while others won't. That's the point :) RISE will crack open a conversation about how even in the most 'liberal' settings, anti-Blackness and microaggressions are still at play. That's what makes them so powerful. The fact that these systems seem invisible to some and hyper-visible to others.

MP: What are some specific actions you hope people will take having engaged with this project?

MB: I hope the film inspires deeper learning in Bakau's Unlearning Anti-Blackness workshop. And that folks fall in love with the storytelling! As told from a Black perspective.

A black and white photograph of Back folks on a film set with their film equipment
Photo by @instadoode

MP: What was your favourite part of the process?

MB: Everything! I loved dreaming about the script, refining it, and putting our production team together where we centred Black and POC artists. I loved acting and being on set (that's my happy place!), and seeing the whole thing come alive in the editing room was amazing. What makes me the most excited about

this film are all the details.

We had Black artists in all areas of the department: from actors, cinematographers, producers, story editors, wardrobe to production managers. I even made sure to centre Black business in Vancouver with the locations we filmed in and the wardrobe accessories our characters wore. For example, the office scenes were filmed at Makeshift Workspace, which is run by an incredible woman of colour. Everything came together like magic, and the best part is knowing that this film was produced by Bakau Consulting, an organization dedicated to uplifting Black voices. That makes the film all the more sweet! I want to tell stories like this for the rest of my life, and I am so grateful to Cicely for the opportunity and to my incredible film team for going above and beyond expectations.

MP: Could you tell me about any unique challenges in the work you’re doing or the project you’re working on?

MB: The challenge don't change! Haha. It's always about getting a seat at the table. As an actor/writer, the obstacle is always about having our stories be seen as worthy. To create more room and build bigger circles.

MP: What would you need to overcome them?

MB: Opportunities like this one are every artist's dream. To create work with people who empower your voice. I hope this, and more, for every BIPOC artist out there! Bookings and blessings for us all!

MP: When can we expect to see the finished product? Where?

MB: We will have a screening in January! After that, I'll be submitting the film to a few festivals, so if folks want to see it, they'll have to take Bakau Consulting's Unlearning Anti-Blackness workshop, which I love! The idea that if you want to experience Black art and Black culture, you'll also have to educate yourself in racial justice and anti-Blackness. To me, that embodies an old African teaching I was raised with, “to create harmony, you can't take something from a community without giving something back.”

MP: What else would you like people to know?

MB: You're worthy. Black Lives Matter.

MP: Thank you so much for your time and effort. I appreciate it! Take care, and stay safe out there.

You can find Mariam here on Instagram @mangomariam.

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