But You’re Not Black

Danielle Ayow

2019, 19:17 minutes, colour, English with English subtitles

TAPECODE 2136.00

But You’re Not Black opens during Toronto’s Caribana, which Danielle Ayow has attended for most of her life. The festival represents her parents’ Trinidadian culture, but Danielle is also Chinese and visibly so. She struggles with how people see her background, and how she should see herself.

Danielle’s grandparents immigrated to Trinidad when they were young, part of the waves of Chinese people who moved there to escape war and create better opportunities. Her Chinese-Trinidadian parents eventually moved to Canada, where Danielle was born. In a multicultural city like Toronto, Danielle straddles cultures. People are surprised by her background, wanting to trace the Caribbean part back to the country they see stamped on her skin. They tell her she doesn’t look like she’s mixed, or ask her which parent is from Trinidad and which is from China.

Danielle sits down with her Chinese-Caribbean-Canadian peers, dissecting their experiences while they fold and eat dumplings (the one Chinese dish Danielle knows she can make). She travels to Trinidad, attending Independence Day celebrations and speaking to locals — some who share her pain, and one who is skeptical of her identifying with a country she’s never lived in. She speaks to a professor, Dr. Camille Hernández-Ramdwar, and an author, Paula Williams Madison. Her conversations with both of them are a blend of personal and academic, as they try to tap into why Danielle feels this way and how she can anchor herself to the culture she knows should feel like hers.

Danielle goes on a quest, both literally and emotionally, in order to get over the discomfort she’s long felt about her identity. Crossing borders to find new perspectives, she takes a wider look at issues of culture and society, while trying to find some personal closure along the way. The film challenges perceived correlations between race and culture, asking the audience to examine their own assumptions about cultural identity while Danielle navigates hers.

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