Yasmine Mathurin’s One of Ours is the story of Josiah Wilson, a Black twentysomething born in Haiti where he was adopted by a pair of Canadians — a white mother and an Indigenous father — as he navigates his identity.
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The family at the centre of Yasmine Mathurin’s One of Ours is a maelstrom of complex dynamics governed by settler colonialism. Mathurin specifically follows Josiah Wilson, a Black twentysomething born in Haiti where he was adopted by a pair of Canadians — a white mother and an Indigenous father — who were living there at the time, and soon brought him home to Calgary in Canada. Having grown up as a member of the community of his father’s Heiltsuk Nation, Josiah is culturally and legally Indigenous. But as an adoptee, and a Black man, he looks like he’s out of place in this community. This also means he’s part of the African diaspora that was first torn from their homeland and brought to Haiti, hundreds of years ago, only to be once again torn away from his homeland by the Canadian family that adopted him.
Josiah is an avid basketball player, and throughout his teen years, was a member of the Heiltsuk Nation team that attended the All Native basketball tournament annually. The tournament is a celebratory gathering of West Coast Indigenous Peoples across Nations. After years of attending, one year, he’s suddenly barred from the event because he lacks the ⅛ ‘blood quantum’ required — itself a colonial concept aimed at eventually eliminating Indigenous communities over generations.
For Josiah, this is about more than just being able to play basketball; it feels like he’s been exiled from his community. Josiah is forced to ask, and Mathurin’s documentary explores, what does it mean to be Indigenous? And how do we form our identities? This also leads Josiah to a greater awareness of how his adoption has divided him from his biological roots, including his language. He speaks French, so he can communicate with locals when he visits Haiti, but he has no family connections there and no way of learning Haitian Creole (which his adoptive father does speak). In an effort to be properly accepted into the one community he has always known, Josiah feels more loss for the community he lost. His sister, also adopted in Haiti, feels a similar sense of dislocation when she moves back to her adoptive father’s home territory of Bella, Bella. Culturally, she feels at home, but she’s also the only Black woman for miles, which makes her stick out and want services like a hairdresser who can work with Black hair.
As the film progresses, we learn more about how Josiah’s family is a crucible for discussions about colonialism and identity. After he and his sister were adopted from Haiti, his parents had two white-passing biological children who do have Indigenous blood quantum. The different levels of racial privilege experienced by the siblings are a source of tension within the family, even as Mathurin constantly makes us aware of the love and affection shared by all. Still, none of them grew up on the Heiltsuk Nation territory, and all of the children were traumatized when their parents divorced and their Indigenous father left them. That story is itself complex, because the divorce was a product of their father coming out, something he never felt safe doing on a reserve with strong Evangelical Christian Missionary influences for centuries.
Mathurin’s filmmaking approach is largely to act as a fly-on-the-wall camera documenting Josiah’s experiences. She never appears in the film, though the boom sometimes does, in what seems like a deliberate reminder of her presence than clumsy technique. But because of the complex dynamics within the family and its inherent tensions, Mathurin intersperses the action with interviews with both Josiah and his daily members. The film ultimately takes place over years as Josiah copes with the fallout of being barred from the basketball event, and Mathurin charts the shifts in how the family interacts and describes their relationships. It’s a moving and unsettling film that is a case study in just how widespread the effects of colonialism are and how it continues to be an ongoing traumatic process and experience.
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