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Colorblind brings together science and art in Mostafa Keshvari’s cinematic statement against anti-Black racism

Colorblind still of Trae Maridadi
Monet's (Trae Maridadi) inability to see the spectrum is at the heart of a new film called Colorblind, which will be screened at the Vancity Theatre as part of the upcoming Vancouver International Black Film Festival.

In Mostafa Keshvari’s new film, Colorblind, a landlord named Walton is in for a surprise when the new tenant knocks on his door. It turns out that Magdalene Whyte, a single mother and artist, is Black.

Walton, a racist retired firefighter, didn’t anticipate this when Magdalene’s white mother rented the suite on her daughter’s behalf. But it turns out that Magdalene was adopted and was raised in a Catholic home—hence her given name.

On the doorstep, Walton’s prejudice immediately surfaces when he demands that Magdalene pay an extra month’s rent, just to put his mind at ease.

Complicating matters is the fact that Magdalene and her young son Monet are both colourblind. This sets the stage for a head-spinning series of events showing how anti-Black racism ignites on false assumptions, stereotyping, and a hateful heart.

“We worked with the Black community to make the script as authentic as possible,” Keshvari tells Pancouver by phone. “This is the beauty of Canada, where all colours come together to tell the same story and the same message about unity.”

Producers Kirk Moses and Ian Nsenga are both Black, along with two of the three lead cast members, Chantel Riley and the child actor Trae Maridadi. Veteran actor Garry Chalk, who’s white, plays Walton in the film, which was shot entirely in Vancouver.

Selina Williams, whose ancestry is Jamaican and British, is the story editor of Colorblind, which will be screened at the Vancity Theatre on Saturday (December 17) as part of the Vancouver International Black Film Festival.

Magdalene (Chantel Riley) teaches her son about racism in Colorblind.

Boy in Colorblind named after French painter

Keshvari thought a great deal about how a mother might teach a child about racism in the world before depicting this on-screen. He emphasizes that Colorblind is a feature, not a documentary, but there were enough Black creators to ensure a realistic depiction of Black life.

“We don’t say that this is a film that encapsulates the whole Black experience,” the Vancouver-based Keshvari emphasizes. “It’s more of a symbolic film that will hopefully stand the test of time. It will still be relevant if you watch it over and over, years from now.”

In addition to writing and directing several award-winning films, Keshvari is also a painter and a poet. He named the child in his film after the great French painter Claude Monet, who produced great work while suffering from cataracts.

This boy, Monet, is completely colourblind, with a condition known as monochromacy. His mom is partially colourblind, with only certain colours distorted.

Colorblind includes point-of-view images created with the help of UBC experts. These demonstrate what it looks like to see the world with each of these conditions.

“We wanted to bring science and art together with this film,” Keshvari says. “So, I can confidentially say it’s the first feature film in the world that shows colourblindness accurately.”

Garry Chalk
Garry Chalk’s character, Walton, offers a rude welcome to a single Black mother who moves into his building.

Racism knows no borders

Cinematographer Stirling Bancroft’s camera work in Colorblind actually hides that it was made in Vancouver. That’s because Keshvari prefers writing in a “universal perspective” so it will reach people in different parts of the world. The city goes unnamed throughout the movie.

“They never mention it because racism doesn’t have any borders,” the director says. “It can happen anywhere, any time.”

Keshvari likens skin colour to the cover a book. And too often, he feels that people judge a person by that cover without opening the book and discovering what’s inside.

“If we were all colour blind, we couldn’t see each other’s covers,” Keshvari says. “And in that way, we could bypass all that judgment and just really get to know each other. This is what I think the theme of this story was about.”

The film ends with a poem encapsulating his view that people shouldn’t be pigeonholed into certain roles in society based on one aspect of their identity. This is reflected in his art, regardless of the medium. Just because he was born in a Persian country, he feels he shouldn’t be restricted to only telling stories about his own community.

“I’m an artist and I’m a human,” Keshvari says. “I have to make humanitarian films that connect us all. I’m really against this idea that you have to tell certain stories because you look a certain way.

“As a human, if you make something that connects, it doesn’t matter who you are,” he adds. “You should look at the message, not the messenger.”

Mostafa Keshvari
Colorblind director and writer Mostafa Keshvari creates films with a social purpose.

Persian poets shaped his perspective

When asked how he arrived at his view of the world, Keshvari replies that he was blessed to have been introduced to Persian literature at a very young age.

“So I was reading Rumi, Hafez, and Omar Khayyam when children here in Canada were watching superheroes,” he quips.

He immigrated from Tehran to Canada as he was entering adulthood. For a while, he worked as a financial manager at BMO before embarking on his film career. Since graduating from the Vancouver Film School in 2015, he’s won or captured nominations for 80 awards at IMDb-qualifying film festivals.

Here in B.C. Keshvari was nominated along with Sanam Jokar Naraghi for a 2021 Leo Award for Best Art Direction in an Animation Program for his short film “Eternal Igloo”. In addition, Keshvari received four Leo nominations in 2018 for another of his short films, “Music Box”.

At the recent Whistler Film Festival, Keshvari, along with Moses and Nsenga, received nominations for the Borsos Award for Best Canadian Feature for Colorblind. Keshvari also snagged nominations for Best Director of a Borsos Film and Best Screenplay for a Borsos Film.

Watch the trailer for Colorblind.

Challenge of indie filmmaking

“A lot of colourblind people don’t see that they’re colourblind until later in life,” Keshvari explains. “It goes the same for racism.”

Despite his remarkable success as a filmmaker, government funding bodies have not supported him apart from a small development grant from Telefilm for Colorblind.

“I feel like when it comes to diversity, western Canada is not very good at supporting independent filmmakers,” he says.

In the meantime, Keshvari deeply appreciates the private investors who believed in Colorblind. But he also admits it was a challenge shooting his recent film, which had a budget of $500,000.  That’s because U.S. producers had already secured most of the available equipment and crews in Vancouver.

“We want to tell our stories,” Keshvari declares. “I’ve been lucky enough to be truthful to my path. Every film that I’ve worked on has been my own film, but not many artists have this chance. It’s kind of exhausting.”

The Vancouver International Black Film Festival runs from December 16 to 20. Colourblind screens at 7 p.m. on Saturday (December 17) at the Vancity Theatre and online. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.