Owning your Uniqueness

Updated: May 5, 2020

Who is Valerie?

I met Valerie at a Slay the Mic Masterclass in Toronto last February. When she built up the courage to stand and speak to the class, she shared a part of her story and I needed to know more!

First off; SHE'S A FILM MAKER who’s short film was touring Canada in a film festival! So even with her accolades, why did it take a bit more to get her up on the mic?

Well I had the opportunity to speak with Valerie and we discussed some similarities to our upbringing - being raised by newcomers to Canada. She admitted that she was also advised not to aim too high and to find a full time job, with benefits, and that a degree would get her all of that. We discussed the common experience in high school many teens feel: not knowing what she wanted to do. She enjoyed storytelling and creative writing classes but didn't think there was a career path there so she ended up going to the University of Toronto for Psychology. Being introverted, she admitted to not really making any friends and knew she wouldn't be chasing a PhD or her Masters so instead, she took a year off to reevaluate.

In this time, Valerie joined local organizations like Presenting our Vision and Toronto's City Life Film Project. These organizations take youths in different areas to teach different art streams. It was a great opportunity to explore her interests and possible career paths in the arts because it's free and accessible for people who may not ability or support to pursue this option. The experience allowed her to pitch an idea to Temple Street Productions but unfortunately, it wasn't selected to be green lit. She spoke about how heartbroken and devastated she felt but that didn't stop her from assisting on other projects. She eventually found herself volunteering on many projects including the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). This opened up doors for her and helped her land her first job on the set of "Lucky 7" - her first paid job!

Being a woman of colour in the film industry, the Toronto film industry specifically, you’re met with white men who dominate the field and hold the power to green light a story. It was difficult to find someone to support young emerging filmmakers seriously. It was more about who you know, not what you know. That's why networking was so important but as a natural introvert, this was another challenge she'd need to overcome. There weren't many people who looked like her, had her sense of humor and so she found it difficult to navigate through networking. She found herself pretending to laugh and offer fake smiles to be remembered when she was just trying to get the next opportunity, "there was a balance I needed to find to stay true to myself. But this is why I'm so grateful for the POV Project and it's connections".

Birth of "Joseph and Margaret & I" - Short Film

In 2016, Valerie volunteered at the Toronto Black Film Festival and was 1 of 5 black filmmakers in Toronto selected to create an entry in the "Being Black in Canada" Project. This was such a grand opportunity and an important story to share. Valerie speaks about how parents cope with their immigration differently, pitching the idea of a focus on her father's alcoholism and how black people deal with trauma. She made the short list and while working with her mentors, the story evolved from focusing on her parents relationship to focusing on her relationship with her father and her story of forgiveness.

(As this film is still touring in the festival, we can't share it yet but once we can, we will definitely share on Instagram so stay tuned!)

Get it done, Sis -- In Valerie's words, this is what you need to remember

To anyone who might be curious about pursuing film making - Always be confident in yourself, your story and voice. This is one thing I struggled with but that's the one thing you need to be solid in, to be unique or else people will try to narrate your story. I could've been farther in my career if I didn't hold onto my rejection for so long. Have the confidence to network, shoot your shot and slide into DMs because it's so important, people are more accessible now! Take advantage of it. Do the work, constant stage of learning, open to learn. Always be yourself, don't try to fit in, yourself and your brand is what people will like. People might not like your story but they'll believe in you.