The inspiration for Israel Ekanem’s latest film came from a T-shirt.
The filmmaker, photographer and podcaster debuts Kill Your Masters during the sixth annual Halifax Black Film Festival. Ekanem’s film centres around two Black slave girls who decide to take their destiny into their own hands to liberate themselves from the shackles of their white slave master.
“My plan was just to make it with my friends,” Ekanem says. “I wasn’t sure any festival would be willing to show it; it’s a little bit heavy.”
Inspiration for the story of Kill Your Masters came from recent news events, particularly the death of George Floyd and its aftermath. Ekanem watched protests in Atlanta closely and when one of his favourite hip hop artists, Killer Mike made an impassioned speech, the words on his T-shirt stood out to the Halifax-based artist.
“When he came out to talk…he had a T-shirt that had ‘kill your masters’ written on it,” says Ekanem. “It is a song from his group Run the Jewels. I love the song; I love the message behind the song. Sometimes you just have to take urgency and matters into your own hands.”
“There are things that we sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about and that’s what Kill Your Masters says.”
Ekanem moved to Canada from Nigeria and was introduced to storytelling at a young age by his grandmother and mother. He used his passion for storytelling to start filmmaking in 2016 and already has amassed 22 writing and directing credits, including the award-winning Drown the Lovers and Dearg.
“I realized how powerful stories are,” Ekanem says. “If you are given instructions or guidance it might stick but if there’s a story attached to it, it always sticks way longer and almost forever.”
Ekanem created his production company Ubuntu Media, which includes his film work, photography and blog. He also hosts the podcast Black Out, sharing stories from other artists through interviews and conversation.
“Stories are kind of therapy for me,” says Ekanem. “When I lost a friend by suicide, I made a film and that’s how I dealt with that. With what happened two summers ago (death of George Floyd,) we all watched someone murdered in real time and I had to find a way to process that.”
Ekanem joined the Atlantic Film Cooperative (AFCOOP) Sequestered Screenwriters Group. The group meets to discuss each other’s short film scripts and provide feedback. That is where he first presented his idea for Kill Your Masters.
“I just wanted to write the script and that was it; but the feedback I got from that program made me decide, ‘OK, I’m just going to go make it,’ Ekanem says about the early stages of the film’s development.
“I reached out to friends…they understood the importance of this story and they all came on board to help me work on it.”
Kill Your Masters debuts on Thursday, Feb. 24 during the sixth annual Halifax Black Film Festival. Tickets for the event are available now through the festival’s website. Audiences attending the virtual festival can enjoy short films, documentaries, full-length feature films from Halifax filmmakers and beyond.
There are also virtual panel discussions offered through Halifax Black Film Festival’s Facebook page with topics related to film, media, diversity and equity.
“It’s a record number of films,” says festival founder Fabienne Colas. “And each time you buy one ticket or pass, it is really a support directly to the artists participating at this festival.”
The Halifax Black Film Festival runs from Feb. 24 – 27, 2022 and presented by TD Bank Group in collaboration with Global News.
For more information on the festival, visit halifaxblackfilm.com.