By Thomas Johnson, December 19 2017 —
The opening seconds of Adam Mbowe’s documentary short Colourstruck feature Kailey, a content creator and interviewee, explaining the film’s premise.
“I went out with a few different, I’ll say, ‘colourstruck’ individuals,” she says. “I met a guy’s mom on the phone. On our first date. He Skyped her so she could look at me because she wanted to see that her son was dating someone she found ‘acceptable.’ ”
The term “colourstruck” refers to the dynamics that come with interracial dating, including tokenism, showmanship, fetishization and double standards. Another of the film’s participants, Elsha, articulates the concept well.
“I find that when a white guy does approach me, I take their attention differently than I would with someone of colour. I expect there to be an uneven dynamic in the way he views me,” she says. “On the flip side, I predominantly went to a minority high school. The way I interacted with black guys really shifted. You’re almost viewed as a token.”
Colourstruck was filmed in Calgary as part of NUTV’s Summer Film School. The short, which runs just over six minutes, consists of a series of disarmingly casual interviews conducted by Mbowe. Six women of colour unpack their interracial experiences in dating and other relationships. When asking about the impetus of Colourstruck, Mbowe’s focus is on genuine storytelling.
“I’ve always been intrigued by documentary filmmakers and I feel like it’s more authentic when people tell stories about what they know,” Mbowe says. “So after I got accepted into the film school, I thought about things I know about. Being black and being female are two things.”
A deft interviewer, Mbowe says she kept a fairly hands-off approach when discussing these experiences with the participants.
“They definitely had somewhat of a structure to them because I knew I was going to edit it so I didn’t want to die [from having to edit so much],” she says. “The structure was more so making sure they shared common topics. Generally, I tried to make it a chill conversation despite the two cameras and the boom mic and lights.”
What follows is an amicable dialogue on contemporary race relations, on both large and small scales. The handful of voices that drive the discourse never pander or preach despite their authority and the obvious thought put into every word.
“During the interview process I wanted to let them guide the narrative of the film because I wanted to learn something from the process as well,” Mbowe says.
The effort shows — rarely are conversations of this gravity so nuanced yet unceremonious. Abigail, Elsha, Rayanne, Kailey, Leah and Tsungai, the interviewees, are allowed room to flow with their stream of consciousness and the results yielded are supremely refreshing.
“People try to police other people to be more like me and that’s shitty,” said Kailey before she giggles, “Can I curse?”
Topics aren’t confined simply to relationships either. Talking points vary from minority status to cultural ignorance to white people’s trigger-happy use of the n-word. It’s in these moments that the beauty of the documentary shines through. These things aren’t easy to talk about, decidedly less so when people are afraid of being — or being made — uncomfortable.
In fact, the forthrightness was enough to garner recognition far outside of Calgary. The well-documented movie nerds at popular film-site Film School Rejects lent Colourstruck some positive words, calling it “wonderfully candid.” On the warm reception, Mbowe says it’s “super cool to see
interest beyond my circle of friends.”
“I feel topics like colourism and microaggressions are relevant to my life but not necessarily to everyone, so by making it lighthearted I wanted it to be funny for other black girls to watch because none of what’s said in the video [I feel] is shocking or a revelation to us,” says Mbowe, who is currently posted in Montreal, juggling an experimental horror film with standard practice video editing and campus radio responsibilities.
“For people who don’t identify as black or female I wanted it to be easy to watch. If something came up that they had never heard of or considered, they would be more interested in creating a dialogue or searching up information on some of these topics,” she adds.
Located on the east third floor of MacHall, NUTV has been the University of Calgary’s campus-based television station for over three decades. Colourstruck, along with the other final products from NUTV’s Summer Film School, is available to watch on NUTV’s YouTube channel.