Nine minutes and 29 seconds about the Black experience in Canada in 2021

As the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd approached, Donnovan Bennett was telling his bosses around Rogers Sports & Media that they needed to do something meaningful to mark the occasion.

“I was saying to anyone who would listen ‘May 25 is going to be a big moment, it’s one of the biggest civil rights and social justice conversations that we have,'” said Bennett, a familiar face and voice to anyone who watches Rogers-owned Sportsnet or listens to sports radio station The Fan.

Unless they did it right, and gave it the kind of time and attention it deserved, it would be disrespectful to George Floyd and deliver a message that did more harm than good, said Bennett. The Rogers bosses agreed, and struck a small committee to come up with the appropriate solution. Bennett was asked to lead the project, and knew just who to call: Toronto-based BIPOC creative and production agency Tier Zero.

Bennett didn’t have a specific concept or creative idea in mind, he just knew he wanted it to be nine minutes and 29 seconds long. “The amount of time that George Floyd was on the ground being executed,” he explained.

“He really just reached out to us as young Black creatives and directors, and said ‘Hey, what would you do if we were given the opportunity to broadcast something for this amount of time on this day,” said Jamal Burger, who was executive producer on the film directed by Charlie Lindsay and Due Pinlac. “What would you do if given the chance to pay homage and pay our respects, and to keep that energy and love alive for George Floyd?”

The short film they created—which Rogers pushed across its owned and operated channels, and was scheduled to run in its entirety during both the NHL playoffs and Toronto Blue Jays pre-game shows on Tuesday night—takes nine minutes and 29-seconds to present a poignant and authentic portrait of what it means to be Black in Canada in 2021.

Remember 9:29 is at times lyrical and heart-breaking, and in other moments inspirational and celebratory. The video opens with a poem from young Black poet Chris Kaputo, followed by a diverse group of Black people simply talking about about what it means to be Black in 2021. They talk about racism in Canada and the death of George Floyd but also the “dopest part of being Black.” Bennett and Cityline host Tracy Moore speak, but the rest are people without a big platform or profile—including Bennett’s grandparents in the photo below (with Donnovan back right, his brother and mother).

“The best thing about this project is that we were able to give a voice to those who have a voice, but aren’t heard,” said Burger. “The biggest thing we were trying to accomplish here was to highlight the array of emotions we experienced being Black.”

“I would describe it as a roller-coaster ride of the Black experience that we’re taking you on,” said Bennett. It is sad and contemplative, inspiring, and a little funny. “It’s all of those things, and to be Black is to be all of those things… You are carrying all of those things, all of the time.”

The film is running without any Rogers branding or logos, with the only intent to drive donations to two Black charities: The George Floyd Memorial Foundation, and the Black Solidarity Fund. “Rogers Sports & Media recognizes its unique role and responsibility and we are using our media megaphone to amplify voices that have not always been heard with equal measure,” said Jordan Banks, president of Rogers Sports & Media in a statement provided to The Message. “We will continue to create and deliver the stories that accurately represent Canada’s diversity.”

While the stories themselves matter, who is telling the stories and making the content is just as important. There has been a lot of talk in the past year about how media and advertising must become more diverse and representative, but real change only comes with more people of colour in positions of authority, trusting BIPOC agencies and creating space for BIPOC creative talent. For too long the system made content by white people for white people, and that system’s roots ran deep.

“Black kids typically end up going to schools that are underfunded with less resources or materials, or we have teachers that don’t necessarily empathize with what it means to be Black,” said Burger. “I was told and made to feel countless times by my white media teacher in high school that this wasn’t a space for me.”

Too many other young Black creatives have been similarly pushed away or out of the industry entirely by other gatekeepers who don’t trust them, he said. “I hope we can see more trust in the future. That’s what will create the change.”

It’s important to see Black men and woman in positions of authority, and to have BIPOC talent making great content, added Bennett.

“For me—[someone] who’s been in media for 13 years…and used to being the only Black person in most rooms—to walk on a set and the executive producer is Black, the director is Black and the makeup artist is BIPOC, and almost everyone on the set, all excellent in the roles, are either Black or BIPOC, that is powerful just to see,” he said.

“My biggest takeaway from this is that if people find this content to be well done, and well received, is hire BIPOC, hire Black, hire diverse.

“It’s not charity, it’s a winning strategy.”

David Brown