By Doug Errico
Among the events currently going on around campus to mark Black History Month is a screening of Selwyn Jacob’s documentary, The Road Taken.
To illustrate the premise of this film, please indulge me for a moment. Picture yourself in a job where you are forced to do everything that no one else wants to do. Now, imagine that you have to be ready to do these things 21 of the 24 hours in a day. Add to this an endless stream of degrading remarks and top it off with minimal pay. And after persevering through all this, at the end of the day, you’re happy to have done it because it’s one of the best jobs you can get.
This was the situation faced by the sleeping-car porter–an exclusively Black position for the first 60 years of the 1900s, as depicted in The Road Taken. Jacob does not only describe the conditions faced by the porters, he goes deeper to explore how and why the porters endured them.
"The perception in the black community was that it was a sort of double-edged sword," says Jacob of the life of a porter. "There were good aspects of the job and bad aspects of the job. The bad aspect was that it took men away from their homes and they experienced a lot of racial discrimination. On the positive side, they were able to send their children to university and actually take advantage of the system that was discriminating against them."
This is certainly an optimistic view of the struggle, but Jacob believed his film should be an "upbeat" look at the situation. This in turn helps the film fit into the context of Black History Month, which is supposed to be a celebration of all aspects of black culture.
"[I wanted] to find the quintessential black Canadian experience documented in such a way that it would find an audience beyond the black community," says Jacob.
This audience has certainly been found–The Road Taken has aired on numerous television stations and at film festivals across the country, even taking home the award for Best Documentary Over 30 Minutes at the Yorkton Film Festival.
Check out this unique perspective when The Road Taken is being shown Fri., Feb. 18 at 3p.m., in
st 147 and learn a little something in honour of Black History Month. Admission is free.