Tag Archives: Mary Ann Shadd Cary

My Mary Ann Shadd Emerges – Thu February 26, 2015

Yesterday I received the chalk drawing of Mary Ann Shadd.  It’s kind of remarkable, to see this sort of image for the first time.  This person who I’ve been studying and whose letters I’ve been reading suddenly has a face.  Now – it’s true that it’s an artist’s rendition of the face, but it’s based on an earlier photograph as well as pictures of her father and sister.  So it’s kind of a facial reconstruction.  And it DOES feel like a person emerging out of the haze of history.

But it makes me think about the importance of visual imagery.  On the one hand it provides new information – or a new interpretation.  But at the same time, it closes off an avenue of the imagination.  And it also limits the diversity of options that we, as historians, might consider about a person’s appearance.  It could inadvertently close off lines of enquiry.

In the case of Mary Ann Shadd, I think having the picture has more advantages than disadvantages, since it’s based on existing knowledge of what she looked like.  But in my previous film – about Marie Joseph Angélique – there were no images of her in existence.  All we know is that she was Black, female and around 30 years old in the year of the film.  We don’t even know where she was from, or what her ancestry was.  So by manufacturing an image of her, I automatically slant assumptions about her heritage, by giving her a certain complexion and a certain look.

But filmmaking, unlike book authoring, seems to require that the filmmaker create a visual interpretation.  And this interpretation extends beyond faces to every other aspect of the film.

Anyway…this week I finished the final draft of the Shooting Script for review by Drs. Miller and Walsh.  I also inched forward a little on the voice actors.  I now have all my voice actors identified, and have a date (if not a time) scheduled to meet my narrator to record his part.  I’ve also booked my first day in the editing suite, so will start loading everything up on that day – Monday March 9.

I also did one final research task to confirm the view of at least some of academia about the burial of Black history in Canada.  I got hold of Dr. Afua Cooper’s book The Hanging of Angelique, wherein on page 7, she says “Canadian history, insofar as its Black history is concerned, is a drama punctuated with disappearing acts.  The erasure of Black people and their history in the examples of the Priceville Cemetery and Africville is consistent with the general behaviour of the official chroniclers of the country’s past.  Black history is treated as a marginal subject.  In truth, it has been bulldozed and ploughed over, slavery in particular.”  So with this and my own research, I feel justified in echoing this sentiment in the film, especially the burial of Black history before the 1970s.

This coming week I will be confirming the schedule of voice recordings, and organizing copies of my consent forms for these actors to sign.  I also plan to get started working on my Reflexive Essay.  I don’t know how much progress I’ll make, but just getting it started will help me to start running through it in my mind.

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Film Treatment Done – Thu January 22, 2015

The big accomplishment for this week was getting the Film Treatment completed and submitted for review.  It’s an important step, since it is the guide that will drive the whole editing process.

I still need to complete three interviews, and portions of the transcripts from those will need to be inserted into the Treatment, but they will not materially alter the flow of the film.  And each of the three interviewees remaining has seen the Concept Proposal, so they know the general arguments for the film.  I had some feedback from Adrienne Shadd to that end, and have included her input in the Treatment.

I have also done a bit of reading this past week that seems relevant to my project, concerning the Cultural Turn.  While already I’ve mentioned the emergence of Social History in the 1970s, the Cultural Turn also emerged at that time, examining the individual over the collective, and ideas of self-understanding.  This idea seems to complement some of the things that Judith Butler wrote about gender as a construct, and my expansion of that notion to include race as a construct.  Clifford Geertz’s writing on the subject of “culture as text” is instructive, regarding the problematization of culture as we would problematize text.  He also examines the use of symbols as a way of understanding cultures with limited or no archival presence – something I talk about in the film.  Perhaps this is something for me to consider in my Reflection paper about cultural symbols, archival gaps, and the problematizing of cultures as texts.

My plan to meet with Rose-Gabrielle about her role as voice actor for the Mary Ann Shadd character didn’t take place.  RG was sick and we have yet to reschedule, but that is on my to-do list for the coming week.

I don’t yet have the final versions of the music, but that is not urgent, and I’ve told Jenna, the pianist as much.

And I didn’t hear back regarding the request that I put in with LAC, but I think with my own research and also some very nicely offered input from Dr. Miller’s wife, Mary Margaret, who is an LAC archivist, I have what I need.

So this coming week I plan to reschedule with Rose Gabrielle, confirm my interview plans in Toronto, and go through the Treatment to find any images and sound clips that I am going to need and don’t already have.

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Lots of Activity and Some Celebrity Status – Thu January 15, 2015

There has been a huge flurry of activity over the past week and good progress on my Treatment document as well.  First, I was delighted to obtain the agreement of CBC news anchor and Carleton U MA history student, Adrian Harewood, to be the narrator for my film.  He will make an excellent contribution and lend a little celebrity status, at the same time.

I have also just obtained the agreement of a senior Justice Canada lawyer, named Rose-Gabrielle Birba, to be the voice actor for Mary Ann Shadd.  She called the house last December to talk to my husband and I was immediately taken by her voice and commanding tone, and we will meet soon to talk about the role.

Both Adrian and Rose-Gabrielle are African Canadians, and as such, help to offer cultural legitimacy and ground my film within the Black community.

As I typed those last lines, it occurred to me that I wanted to send my Concept Proposal to the four interviewees in Buxton/Chatham for their input.  And I’ve crafted the email but will wait until tomorrow to send it.  I realized that, according to my Ethics agreement, today is the last day for them to bail out on being in the film, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that involvement.   I’ve been inserting portions of their interview transcripts into the Treatment document and really want to keep their contributions.

Regarding interviews, I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing with Adrienne Shadd, archivist Adam Birrell, Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost and the Media Production Centre at Carleton to arrange to do on-camera interviews on Feb. 6 in Toronto.  So far, it’s all looking like it’s a go – fingers crossed.

I have also been able to listen to pianist Jenna Richards’ first crack at “Steal Away (to Jesus).”  The music is going to be beautiful.  She is going to do a couple of additional things and send me final versions this coming weekend, if all goes well in her busy schedule.

I’ve got a request for information in to Library and Archives Canada about the year when they started collecting Black historical archives.  My own research indicates that the first was in 1960, with one additional collections being added in 1964, and others in the 1980s.  It’s a bit hard to tell the dates since the Date field has in it the range of dates of the items in the collection – their dates of origin – and the date of collection may or may not be listed within the comments.

I now have a rough but more or less complete version of the Treatment.  I need to go back through it to describe the visual imagery, sound and music that will accompany the narrative.  And I want to think more about special treatment effects that will make the film more compelling.

This project has many challenges.  For one thing, it has a lot of moving parts, and keeping them all moving forward is a bit of a juggling act.  Secondly, many of these “moving parts” are people with their own interests, worries and busy schedules, and working within their needs, while keeping people excited about the project is a constant consideration.  Both of these “project management”-style challenges must be set aside, however, when I want to get into the historical-theoretical elements of the narrative.  I don’t want technical issues to overtake the real messages – the ones that make people think – and that requires a different “hat” to be worn, and a different mindset.  And on top of all of that, there is another hat to wear: that of the artist.  I want this film to be beautiful and stirring.  SOOOOO – a lot to think about, and a lot of hats to wear.

This coming week I hope to meet with Rose-Gabrielle about her role as Mary Ann Shadd, and to obtain some final versions of the music.  I will also, likely get some information back from LAC.  But most importantly, I need to get the Treatment finalized and submitted.

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Right Back Into It – Thu January 8, 2015

Happy New Years all!  I’ve been right back into work on the film since Tuesday as I am starting to feel the pressure of knowing that this needs to be an actual film by April 23.  The good news is that things are coming together.

Jenna Richards, the pianist, has done several versions of “Steal Away (to Jesus)” for me to listen to.  So far I haven’t been able to unzip the files, but if I can’t, I’ll get her to put them on some sort of portable media and get them from her when I see her next week.

I’ve spent much time over the past few days trying to establish a date to go to Toronto to do the next set of interviews.  I am delighted to have Adrienne Shadd lined up.  She is the great (x3) niece of Mary Ann Shadd, and also co-author of The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto! along with Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost and Dr. Afua Cooper.  Adrienne Shadd has also published two other books on Black history.

As well, Dr. Smardz Frost is going to be in Toronto from Nova Scotia on Feb 6, and is keen to do an interview, so I am trying to line up Adrienne and the senior archivist at Archives of Ontario, Adam Birrell, to interview on that day.  It’s all a bit tricky, since everybody is coming from out of town except Adam.

I’ve also been working on some research to confirm the effective burial of Black history in Canada up until the 1970s and 80s.  I was pleased to get some information from Ontario Heritage Trust about their historic plaques program.  They were able to send me the years that each of the 23 Black Heritage plaques were unveiled, confirming the notion that Black Heritage grew in importance to Ontario during and after the 1960s and more again in the 1990s and 2000s.  This result is supported by a search of scholarly publications about Black history in Canada.  (It’s also supported by things that scholars of Black history say, but I wanted to check for myself.)

Finally, I’ve been making pretty good progress on the Treatment, and am still aiming to have it submitted to Drs. Miller and Walsh on January 22.  It’s taking me longer that the Treatment for my first film since I’m trying to attach more scholarly rigour to it, including adding citations… something that I didn’t have to do for my previous film.

So this coming week I hope to confirm the date of my trip to Toronto – aiming at this moment for Feb. 6 and possibly Feb 7.  As well, I hope to hear the music that Jenna has recorded and see if that needs any additional work.  And finally, I want to keep pushing on the Treatment.  I am also conscious of the fact that I need to find more visual imagery for this film.  But it’s easy to get sidetracked from the Treatment and go hunting for images, so I’m trying not to do that.

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Archivists, Interviews, the Treatment and the Holidays – Thu December 18, 2014

I did better this week on completing the things I intended.  First of all – and in a way that gives me some comfort, given that I have an old laptop – I made a back-up of all my stuff, including still images, b-roll footage, bought footage, and my own written work and research.

I also made some good progress on the Treatment.  However, I’m reaching the point where I am missing having the interviews with the Archivists and with Adrienne Shadd in Toronto.  I’ve been able to use content from the interviews that I did last October in Chatham and Buxton for some of the early portions of the film.  And I hope to be able to continue to make progress with the Treatment using more of that material for the end of the film.  But the whole middle section of the film relies on academic interview material that I don’t yet have.

To that end, I spent some time this week on the phone with one of the archivists in Toronto, discussing the kinds of information I want to know about.  So that process is moving forward, and we are starting to look for dates in late January for me to go to Toronto.  I have also sent an email to reconnect with Adrienne Shadd in Toronto, to try to coordinate to interview her during the same trip.

I have sent my Concept Proposal to Adrienne for her  background information about the film, and also to see if she thinks I am going astray in an inappropriate way in discussing Black history.  Per the suggestion of my supervisors, I have also sent this proposal to the four descendents of Mary Ann Shadd that I interviewed in Chatham and Buxton to solicit their feedback about portrayal of Black history.

Since the next round of interviews won’t happen until around the time the Treatment is due, I will plan to discuss my approach in the Treatment, including visual imagery, and use that to fine-tune my interview questions.  Then I will have the results of the interviews for the next component: the Script.

As I reflect on this project compared to the previous film project I worked on during my undergraduate program, I find that I want to be more rigorous about documenting my sources.  In the undergraduate project this was not required, beyond listing the books used in a bibliography.  But I think that, for the purposes of this project I want to footnote my material, and the Treatment document is the best place to do this.

Too often, films are criticized for being inaccurate.  And while I subscribe to a certain amount of creativity and artistic license, the underlying factual content should be defensible.  Clifton Johnson, one of the lead historical consultants for Steven Spielberg’s film Amistad conceded that the film reached a larger audience in a few months than he had reached during the forty years of his academic career. But he bemoaned the fact that he feared he would “spend the rest of [his] life correcting the errors” of the film.[i]

This will be my last blog until Thursday January 8.  I hope to do a bit more work on the Treatment, but by and large, I will be taking a break so that I will be ready to head back into school work in January.  Happy (and safe) holidays to all.

[i] Iyunolu Folayan Osagie, The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone, (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2000), 122.

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Bad Planning, but Still Progress – Thu December 11, 2014

When I look back at what I said, last week, that I’d do this week, it seems to me I should actually pay at least a little bit of attention to my original plans.  I said I’d work on the Treatment and look for a map.  And I actually DID make progress on the Treatment, but I never looked for a map.

Instead I did a bunch of other things.  I had a conversation with one of the archivists from Ontario Archives, and she told me that the archivists don’t have subject-matter portfolios but rather – I think – technical specialties.  Anyway, she asked me to send her some questions that I would like to ask in an on-camera interview, and I did that.  In fact, I sent her quite a few, with various options so that hopefully she can find an archivist (or two) who can do an interview with me.

I also bought my 1960s home video clips of a house being demolished by a bulldozer.  There are three clips and they ended up costing $157.  I had thought they’d be $135 but that price turned out to be in USD, and with our current Canadian Peso, the price goes up.

I also had some delays with the downloading of the clips.  After making the purchase online, I was offered the option to have my downloads in one of three formats: ProRes, H264, and PhotoJPEG.  This meaning nothing to me, I turned to our oh-so knowledgeable Media Production Centre, and Hasi Eldib was able to point me in the right direction.  So I now have 3 massive Prores film clips of a house being knocked down.

I am also quite keen to add a distinctive and poignant quotation to this film, and have been looking at some work by Black authors, but haven’t settled on anything yet.

On a more reflective note, I’ve been looking at  Shelley Ruth Butler’s book Contested Representations: Revisiting Into the Heart of Africa, and am reminded of the perils and potential pitfalls of being a white person putting Black history into the public domain.  One of the reasons that this ROM exhibit drew such criticism is that the curator, Jeanne Cannizzo, didn’t involve the Black community in the creation of the exhibit.  For my film I already have input from, and three on-camera interviews with four members of the Black community.  And I still hope to have an interview with one of Mary Ann Shadd’s great- great- nieces, Adrienne Shadd.  The quotation I plan to include will also, I hope, be by a Black writer.  As well, I have a couple of leads on people who might be my narrator and both are members of the Black community.  But I wonder if this is enough.  I wonder if I should ask, perhaps Dr. Diptee to have a look at my Concept Proposal, or maybe someone from African Studies.

Now that I have all this material on my hard drive, I am thinking that a good task for this coming week will be to make a backup.  Imagine if I lost all this?  And I’ve stuck a sticky-note reminder on my laptop to do this, since checking my blog to see what I’d planned to do, doesn’t seem to be working well.  That said, I will (try to remember to) this week continue my work on the Treatment.  And, hey, maybe I’ll even go find a map.

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Hitting Bumps in the Road, but Still Moving Forward – Thu December 4, 2014

Henry Bibb - c1850 - Bentley Historical Library - Public DomainThis week I seem to have run into lots of obstacles.  I bought the vintage film footage of the house being demolished ($135) but am still waiting to get some help on which version of the video I should download.  As well, my pianist has been busy and hasn’t had time to check out the options I sent to her.  And I’ve heard from the Ontario Archives, but haven’t found out yet who is going to be my on-camera interviewee.  However, this is why I started all these things early.  Sometimes it just takes a while for everything to fall into place.

In the meantime, Bentley Historical Library at U of Michigan got back to me with a confirmation about the source of the image of Henry Bibb, the editor of The Voice of the Fugitive.

As well, I have obtained several more sound effects, including one of children talking and playing, one of birds chattering, and three of wooden building demolition.  I also got two that can be my publishing sounds:  one is the sound of writing on paper, and the other is the sound of pages being turned.

After much searching, I finally settled on an image of the banner of Shadd’s Provincial Freeman newspaper.  I had to choose between a full page of the newspaper that was quite fuzzy, or the banner alone, which is quite clear.

Provincial Freeman - banner - 1854 - University of Virginia

I also did a little more work on the Treatment, but didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped.  Sadly, there don’t appear to be any photographs in existence of Shadd’s husband, Thomas F. Cary, nor are there any of her children, Sarah Elizabeth Cary and Linton Shadd Cary.

So this week I will hopefully make more progress on the Treatment, and will also have a look for a map of the northeast U.S. and central Canada that I can use.  I am thinking of creating a map animation showing Shadd’s movements around the area.

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