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6 Degrees Live: Films that give context to anti-Black racism around the world

On Tuesday, June 9, 2020, Canadian filmmaker and 6 Degrees Toronto 2018 speaker Charles Officer sat down with film and TV producer, and Institute for Canadian Citizenship board member, Martin Katz for a virtual conversation about films that can lend historical context and understanding of anti-Black racism in Canada and beyond.

Below is a list of the films they discussed, some of their thoughts on the films, and where you can stream them in Canada. Watch (or rewatch) the full 6 Degrees Live conversation between Officer and Katz on our Instagram.

The Skin We’re In (Documentary – 2017)
Director: Charles Officer
Starring: Desmond Cole
An urgent look at racism in Canada, this documentary follows celebrated journalist Desmond Cole as he researches his hotly anticipated book.

Katz: “What’s amazing about your documentary is that it really situates him at a time and a place almost a decade ago when the roots of the civil unrest we are living in now were I think not appropriately appreciated by enough people.”

Officer: “When this came around, there was this amazing article that Desmond was brave enough to write and share, and it received a lot of doubters, and that’s also been at the core of what is happening right now: the instantaneous rebuttal when someone shares their experience.”

Where to Watch:

I am Not Your Negro (Documentary – 2017)
Director: Raoul Peck
Writers: James Baldwin (writings), Raoul Peck (scenario)
I Am Not Your Negro offers an incendiary snapshot of James Baldwin’s crucial observations on American race relations — and a sobering reminder of how far we’ve yet to go. It chronicles Baldwin’s life through the civil rights movement, focusing on his personal relationships with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Officer: “James Baldwin was this incredible individual who had this insight into our story and our history. Before him, there was Frederick Douglass. All these influences really are points of contact of our education.

“I actually called Desmond [Cole]…I called him my 21st century James Baldwin…He has this way of articulating things that’s unapologetic, that’s honest, that’s experienced based, as well as very acute on critical facts and I feel like James Baldwin exemplified that.”

Where to Watch:

In the Heat of the Night ( Drama – 1967)
Director: Norman Jewison
Writer: Stirling Silliphant (screenplay). Based on a novel by John Ball
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates
Tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a Black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi.

Officer: “It was just speaking on so many social political levels, but still within this genre film, which is something I always loved about the medium that we work in. We can layer in commentary, things about our humanity…and still shape or present it in a genre form.”

Katz: “I think it is not irrelevant that [Norman Jewison] is a Canadian that went to America and the first great film he made in America was a film about American racial injustice. I think sometimes you have to be from outside to see what’s going on.”

Where to Watch:

BlacKkKlansman (Drama – 2018)
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier
Based on a true story, BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, who successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch.

Katz: “It blew me away. I thought it was just the most amazing use of the medium by actually introducing contemporary commentary into an action film or a genre film that was set in the ‘70s.”

Where to Watch:

Les Misérables (Drama – 2019)
Director: Ladj Ly
Writers: Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Manenti
Stars: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga
Inspired by the 2005 riots that broke out in the suburbs of Paris in response to police harassment, Les Misérables follows a cop who has recently moved to Montfermeil as he joins the local anti-crime squad, and, together with his two colleagues, struggles to maintain order amidst the mounting tensions between local gangs.

Officer: “The connections I find are so powerful and raw in the way of really depicting a climate we experience in all parts of the world, but in France…it’s a place where there is so much immigration from the African continent.”

Where to Watch:

Black Cop (Drama –  2017)
Cory Bowles
Writer: Cory Bowles
Starring: Ronnie Rowe, Sophia Walker, Sebastien Labelle

Officer: “It’s amazing to see that idea of how justice works for some folks, but it doesn’t work for other folks.”

Where to Watch

Invisible Essence (Documentary – 2018)
Charles Officer
Writer: Charles Officer
Starring: Guillaume Cote, Olivier d’Agay, Adam Gopnik
Explores the enduring cultural impact of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s influential novel The Little Prince.

Katz: “It’s not a movie about racial injustice. It’s a movie about universal humanity.”

Officer: “That book and that film is about that message that it takes time to build bonds, it takes time to understand things, but you have to invest. And we have to invest in our humanity and the way that we treat one another.”

Where to Watch

Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community (Documentary – 1984)
Directors: Jennifer Hodge, Roger McTair
Writer: Jennifer Hodge
Starring: Charmaine Edmead
The film takes us to the heart of the Jane-Finch “Corridor” in the early 1980s. The area readily evokes images of vandalism, high-density subsidized housing, racial tension, despair and crime. By focusing on the lives of several of the residents, the film provides a powerful view of a community that is working towards a more positive future.

Officer: “We also have to project that there are films that have been made about here that we can investigate that will actually shed some light on a lineage and tie some connections to what is actually happening right now.”

Where to Watch

Other recommended films by Charles Officer and Martin Katz:



Coming to America

Do The Right Thing

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

La Haine

If Beale Street Could Talk

Malcolm X


They Call Me Mr. Tibbs

When They See Us


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