February is Black History Month. Recognized in the U.S. and, more recently, the U.K. and Canada, it’s a month-long celebration of contributions to history and culture by citizens of African and Caribbean descent.
The movie Selma, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, dramatizes the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. It’s in theatres now. But, though Vancouver has a relatively small black population (only one per cent, according to citystats.ca), a number of arts organizations are honouring the event with special productions, performances and screenings.
The Whipping Man (Pacific Theatre, 1440 W. 12th Ave. at Hemlock, Feb. 27 – March 21) – In this Pacific Theatre production, a critically wounded Confederate soldier returns home, where his newly emancipated slaves wait. The Confederate soldier is Jewish, as are the former slaves (according to fiat, slaves took on the religion of the household). As Passover – the celebration of freedom from slavery for the Jews in Egypt – approaches, the question arises: will the newly freed men help the soldier? Tickets and info: pacifictheatre.org.
The Mountaintop (Granville Island Stage, 1585 Johnston St., Granville Island, Feb. 12 – March 14) – While Selma (the movie) takes a look at Martin Luther King Jr. and his role in the 1965 march, The Mountaintop by American playwright Katori Hall takes place on one night. It’s 1968 and King has just given what will come to be know as one of his greatest speeches. But it’s also his last night on Earth. Tickets and info: artsclub.ca.
Hallelujah Praise: Motown Meets Gospel (Ryerson United Church, 2195 W. 45th Avenue, Feb. 28 – March 1) – Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir presents its annual gospel music workshop and concert. This year, the event combines both gospel music and Motown hits from the likes of Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. The workshop (Sat., Feb. 28, 2015) is open to anyone who wants to take part. The next day, GNVGC Artistic Director Gail Suderman and Victoria-based singer/conductor Louise Rose will lead the participants along with the 90-voice Choir. Tickets (concert): brownpapertickets.com.
Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour St.) – Every Monday throughout February, Vancity Theatre is screening movies in celebration of Black History Month. Dramas include last year’s celebrated rise-to-stardom flick Beyond the Lights and the 1959 classic Black Orpheus. The 2010 animated musical Chico & Rita is set in the nightclubs of Havana and New York. Keep on Keepin’ On is a documentary about trumpet player Clark Terry, while King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis looks at the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. Comedy fans can see the historic concert film Richard Pryor Live in Concert, which will be preceded by a half-hour set by L.A./Vancouver comic Dino Archie (Feb. 16). (Tickets and info: viff.org)