The phenomenon of online storytelling is becoming increasingly commonplace, especially since platforms like Humans of New York have gained immense popularity. With online storytelling, people can discover art that would not necessarily be supported by traditional or mainstream outlets. One such work is Strolling, a YouTube documentary series by London writer and director Cecile Emeke. The series features stories from the Black diaspora. The people interviewed are from Jamaica, France, and England. Emeke was there in person to share the series with McGill on March 13 in an event hosted by the Black Students’ Network (BSN).
The event began with an episode of Strolling that featured Kokab and Gladstone, two Jamaicans, who discussed the disproportionate amount of American media in Jamaica and issues of language in standardized testing. Emeke followed the episode with a short talk about her work, describing the motivation for her various projects – including the series Ackee and Saltfish, which is and a collaboration with the BBC. The artist also gave a behind-the-scenes look at Strolling.
When asked what motivated her to create the video series, Emeke explained that she started it in response to the realization that there was “something [she] needed to express” and urgently. For Emeke, Strolling was an attempt to “open up the conversation” about racism and identity in order to connect members of the Black diaspora. Emeke hoped that her project would encourage members of the Black community to celebrate their identities.
The majority of the event comprised of a lengthy question and answer period – but there was something extraordinary about it that made it feel more like an intimate discussion between the artist and audience on crucial topics. Instead of pointing and selecting raised hands, Emeke greeted everyone with a cool “hey.” This casual atmosphere led to discussions about race and identity in which individuals felt comfortable sharing their own stories.
For Emeke, Strolling was an attempt to “open up the conversation” about racism and identity in order to connect members of the Black diaspora. Emeke hoped that her project would encourage members of the Black community to celebrate their identities.
Emeke talked about the beauty of self-expression, her travels, and emphasized the importance of nuance in conversations about identity. “Even talking about Black Britishness, that means nothing, really,” Emeke said in her talk. “Because I’m […] actually talking about Black London, and then I’m probably talking about my part of Black London, Black Bristol.” Emeke said that although she understands why people generalize when talking about race and identity, she stressed that the only way to understand the complexities within the Black diaspora is through an emphasis on nuance to the point where “generalizations are almost useless.”
Strolling aptly illustrates this idea. In one of the episodes focused on the Black diaspora in the U.S., an interviewee Gabrielle spoke about her “Americanness” and the privilege it may give her over others within the diaspora, which Emeke said led her to re-evaluate traces of privilege within her own British identity.
After the event, Jamaican student Shannon Chen See spoke to The Daily about her reactions to the event and the screening of Strolling in particular. She said there were some aspects she understood but some that seemed foreign to her. “I’m not Black, so I know it’s not ‘for’ me, but at the same time, it addressed the questions of race that I’ve grown up in, or those things that we take for granted,” she said. “It undercut three areas all at once: race, nationality, and class. I thought, ‘Wow, there’s certain questions you really just take for granted.’ […] And this has really opened up dialogue for that.”
There’s no shortage of stories within the Black diaspora; the challenge is to use online platforms in ways that empower these voices, fostering connection and appreciation.
In order to portray the deeply personal experiences shared by the people she interviewed, Emeke emphasized the need to examine the role film plays in the outcome of these global conversations. Emeke stressed the need to act with meticulous sensitivity in order to authentically portray Black voices. “I’m always learning,” she repeated many times throughout the evening. She also emphasized the powerful dynamics present in the process of discovering the stories of others, as well as discovering oneself.
Emeke never appears or speaks in her videos, instead allowing the individual being interviewed to tell their story organically. The videos feel more like intimate conversations rather than interviews set-ups. And as Emeke mentioned in her talk, “conversations are healing.”
Near the end of her presentation, Emeke said that “even if [she] made 1,000 episodes of Strolling, it would still be just a drop in the ocean.” There’s no shortage of stories within the Black diaspora; the challenge is to use online platforms in ways that empower these voices, fostering connection and appreciation.