School subjects: History and Citizenship Education, Diversity/Pluralism, Heath/Personal Development, Social Studies
Constructed around the many faces of racism, this playlist touches on subject categories such as diversity in communities, civil rights and freedoms, and bullying and discrimination. These NFB films are appropriate for upper primary to post-secondary students.
Students are regularly confronted with racism, experiencing prejudice, discrimination, injustice, abuse and ignorance. Often they are told to just ignore it, be better than the racist perpetrator, or grow a thick skin. This response is unhelpful, as it does not address underlying issues or provide the victims with a way to move forward. The courage, vulnerability and resilience they need to face racism is rarely taught or modelled.
This playlist gives voice to the varied experiences of students, creating a space for dialogue, modelling of behaviour, and perspectives that can allow them to navigate the challenging and hurtful terrain of racism.
These films affirm the complexities of racism while engaging viewers through the power of storytelling. The subject matter is intrinsically relatable, as most of our students have first-hand knowledge of racism or have seen its effects on those around them. The stories speak to the importance of connection and anchoring (through heritage, tradition, family, faith, culture, others around us, sport, etc.), not to avoid, but to provide strength and perspective, and to find healthy ways to engage with racism. These films promote decision making about conflict and well-being through critical thinking grounded in a larger consciousness of social, cultural and global responsibility.
The films can be incorporated into many of the Humanities courses, such as History, Languages, Canadian and Indigenous Studies, Geography and Social Studies. More importantly, engaging students in dialogue around racism creates an opportunity to re-tell forgotten history and stories that enrich their understanding of the reality and diversity of the many communities in Canada.
Doing so promotes a shift away from harmful and unfounded notions of an inherent incompatibility and barrier between groups of people in society, revealing instead that stereotypes and prejudices are born out of ignorance. These films demonstrate that ignorance can be overcome through learning, uncovering a connected history and building our future through a shared cosmopolitan ethic. These films open up new windows to confront painful moments with knowledge and understanding.
Asif-Aly Penwala, NFB Educator Network
Ages 10-16. This short film portrays the experiences of Rhonda Gordon and her daughter, Angela, when a simple bus ride changes their lives in an unforeseeable way. When they are harassed by three boys, Rhonda finds the courage to take a unique and powerful stance against ignorance and prejudice. What ensues is a dramatic story of racism and empowerment.
On August 9, 2016, a young Cree man named Colten Boushie died from a gunshot to the back of his head after entering Gerald Stanley’s rural property with his friends. The jury’s subsequent acquittal of Stanley captured international attention, raising questions about racism embedded within Canada’s legal system and propelling Colten’s family to national and international stages in their pursuit of justice. Sensitively directed by Tasha Hubbard, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up weaves a profound narrative encompassing the filmmaker’s own adoption, the stark history of colonialism on the Prairies, and a vision of a future where Indigenous children can live safely on their homelands.
See the 52-minute version here.
Ages 13+. This short film depicts Africville, a small black settlement that lay within the city limits of Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the 1960s, the families there were uprooted and their homes demolished in the name of urban renewal and integration. More than 20 years later, the site of the community of Africville is a stark, under-utilized park. Former residents, their descendants and some of the decision-makers speak out and, with the help of archival photographs and films, tell the story of that painful relocation.
Filmmaker Karen Cho travels from Montreal to Vancouver to uncover stories from the last survivors of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, a set of laws imposed to single out the Chinese as unwanted immigrants to Canada from 1885 to 1947. Through a combination of history, poetry and raw emotion, this documentary sheds light on an era that shaped the identity of generations.
Ages 12+. This documentary pays tribute to a group of Canadians who took racism to court. They are Canada's unsung heroes in the fight for Black civil rights. Focusing on the 1930s to the 1950s, this film documents the struggle of 6 people who refused to accept inequality. Featured here, among others, are Viola Desmond, a woman who insisted on keeping her seat at the Roseland movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 rather than moving to the section normally reserved for the city's Black population, and Fred Christie, who took his case to the Supreme Court after being denied service at a Montreal tavern in 1936. These brave pioneers helped secure justice for all Canadians. Their stories deserve to be told.
Ages 14+. In July 1990, a dispute over a proposed golf course to be built on Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) lands in Oka, Quebec, set the stage for a historic confrontation that would grab international headlines and sear itself into the Canadian consciousness. Director Alanis Obomsawin—at times with a small crew, at times alone—spent 78 days behind Kanien’kéhaka lines filming the armed standoff between protestors, the Quebec police and the Canadian army. Released in 1993, this landmark documentary has been seen around the world, winning over a dozen international awards and making history at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it became the first documentary ever to win the Best Canadian Feature award. Jesse Wente, Director of Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office, has called it a “watershed film in the history of First Peoples cinema.”
Ages 13+. This documentary tells the personal story of filmmaker Jari Osborne's father, a Chinese-Canadian veteran. She describes her father's involvement in World War II and uncovers a legacy of discrimination and racism against British Columbia's Chinese-Canadian community. Sworn to secrecy for decades, Osborne's father and his war buddies now vividly recall their top-secret missions behind enemy lines in Southeast Asia. Theirs is a tale of young men proudly fighting for a country that had mistreated them. This film does more than reveal an important period in Canadian history. It pays moving tribute to a father's quiet heroism.
Ages 12+. Josh Crooks is a promising teen hockey star in a sport where Black players like him are chronically underrepresented. Ice Breakers reveals the buried history of a pioneering Black hockey league in Atlantic Canada, as Crooks discovers that his unshakable passion is tied to a rich and remarkable heritage.
Ages 10-15. This short film is a condensed version of our feature documentary Mighty Jerome, made especially for elementary and middle-school classes. Canadian athlete Harry Jerome overcame racism to reach the height of track-and-field success. When an injury ended his career, Jerome continued training and went on to achieve one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
Ages 13+. This feature-length documentary tells the story of the Asahi baseball team. In pre-World War II Vancouver, the team was unbeatable, winning the Pacific Northwest Championship for five straight years. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, all persons of Japanese descent in Canada were sent to internment camps. The former Asahi members survived by playing ball. Their passion was contagious and soon other players joined in, among them RCMP officials and local townspeople. As a result, the games helped break down racial and cultural barriers. This remarkable story is told with a combination of archival footage, interviews and dramatic re-enactments.
Ages 13+. Being young is tough, especially if you're Black, Latino, Arab or Asian. In a city like Montreal, you can get targeted and treated as a criminal for no good reason. Zero Tolerance reveals how deep seated prejudice can be. On one side are the city's young people, and on the other, its police force. Two worlds, two visions. Yet one of these groups is a minority, while the other wields real power. One has no voice, while the other makes life-and-death decisions.
Ages 15+. Director Mina Shum makes her foray into feature documentary by reopening the file on a watershed moment in Canadian race relations – the infamous Sir George Williams Riot. Over four decades after a group of Caribbean students accused their professor of racism, triggering an explosive student uprising, Shum locates the protagonists and listens as they set the record straight, trying to make peace with the past.
Ages 11+. Renee Thompson is trying to make it as a top fashion model in New York. She's got the looks, the walk and the drive. But she’s a black model in a world where white women represent the standard of beauty. Agencies rarely hire black models. And when they do, they want them to look “like white girls dipped in chocolate.”
CAMPUS. In 1959, at just 19, Harry Jerome was Canada's most promising track and field star on his way to the Olympics in Rome. By 1962, after suffering a gruesome leg injury, there was every reason to think that his racing days were over. But Jerome was not just a champion on the track; he was doubly determined off it. And so began his climb to what his coach, Bill Bowerman, called "the greatest comeback in track and field history." Through years of unparalleled political turbulence, racial conflict and his own personal challenges, Harry Jerome kept his head down and ran, displaying strength of character and willful perseverance every bit as impressive as his record-setting athleticism.