Vancouver actor and director Rukiya Bernard didn’t just make up the history that permeates in her newest short film. She was steeped in it from childhood in Toronto.
“My parents owed Toronto’s very first African store, called World Art & Décor, for many, many years,” Bernard tells Pancouver by phone. “So I grew up around a lot of African culture and history, as well as Caribbean culture and history. My mom is from East Africa in Kenya and my dad is from Jamaica.”
“Meditation 4 Black Women” emerged from her award-winning play, Yoga for Black Women. Bernard wrote this in 2020 following the police murder of George Floyd.
“It was for me a meditation on what my female Blackness meant in the context of the racial reckoning,” Bernard says.
Like many Black people, she witnessed non-Black friends finally coming to the realization that racism still exists following Floyd’s death. While this was welcomed, it was also a bit of a “backhanded slap”, given all that had occurred for so long.
“There was a lot of emotion for me to process and for other Black people to process,” Bernard explains. “So I wrote Yoga for Black Women because when you need to process your emotions, things like yoga are really, really good. Breathe, right?”
It wasn’t lost on her that Floyd repeated “I can’t breathe” as his final words.
“In yoga, they always talk about breathing and vocalizing, so I wanted to put breath and words to everything I was feeling,” she adds.
Bernard wins fistful of Leos
“Meditation 4 Black Women” revolves around four women—a wife (Miranda Edwards), a Jamaican Canadian dancehall teacher (Kendra Westwood), a grandmother (BJ Harrison), and a daughter (Yasmeen Kelders). They navigate their own female Blackness in a world rife with subtle and overt discrimination.
It will be screened at the Crazy8s gala along with five other films on Saturday (April 15) evening at the Centre in Vancouver. The screenings will be followed by an afterparty at Science World.
Crazy8s is an annual short film festival in Vancouver in which movies must be shot and edited within eight days. It’s backed by film unions, producers, Creative BC, and various businesses. It’s been a Vancouver fixture since 1999, serving as a launching pad for many directors.
“I’ve starred in one Craz8s [film] and I’ve hosted twice because I’ve been an actor for a zillion years,” Bernard quips. “But of course, I’ve never produced or directed or written a Crazy8s short before.”
She did, however, direct “The Blactor”, a short film that won four 2022 Leo Awards. They were for best short drama, best director short drama and best screenwriting short drama for Bernard, and best actress in a short drama for Keeya King. In addition, Bernard won a Leo in 2021 for the docu-short “El Color Negro”.
As an actor, Bernard’s credits include Yellowjackets, Van Helsing, and Nancy Drew.
Pop culture rarely addresses interracial marriage
“Meditation 4 Black Women” is more ambitious than most films submitted to Crazy8s. First off, there are more characters and more locations than the norm, as well an original soundtrack. The film is anchored by an instructor, played by Marci T. House, who lets women know at the outset they are “the descendants of those who kept breathing.”
Each character wrestles with their own experiences of discrimination. For example, the historically informed Jamaican dancehall instructor highlights how traditionally Black dance has been culturally appropriated.
Meanwhile, the Black wife tries to come to terms with the stark realities of her interracial marriage.
Bernard points out that pop culture does not seriously address how spouses of different races view anti-Black attitudes. Yet it’s a reality in private households across the continent, including in her own mixed marriage.
“As I said, in 2020, everyone was saying, ‘Whoa, racism still exists,’ ” she says. “What does that mean in the context of an interracial relationship?”
“Meditation 4 Black Women” was shot locally, with the interior scenes filmed at Bridge Studios and exteriors in the Fraser Street and East 33rd Avenue area.
“We hired a cop to be there,” she says. “It was interesting to do a cop altercation scene with a cop guarding the set.”