One of the best things about our great country is its diversity. A population made up of immigrants, Indigenous, Black, white, brown, old and new, disabled and able-bodied, gay and straight. When we peel back the layers, we find the core – the heart and soul of an individual. Depending on what we find and how we process it, will determine if we like or dislike that person. Typically, we’re drawn to people with similar interests/passions and values… but much like a road trip, change from the ordinary is always intriguing and can bring new discoveries and growth. If you always play it safe, then life can be ordinary and your social circle can become square, plain, mundane, blasé and sour. Mix it up and discover a new friend, partner in crime, jokester, artist, poet – because they can inspire you to have more agency in your life and transform that cookie cut version of yourself.
Finding one’s identity and owning it can be difficult. What if you’re adopted, if you’re a refugee, if you’re of mixed race or your sexual orientation differs from most? Being different doesn’t have to be a negative, it can be your greatest strength if you know how to harness it. Too often, we worry how we’re perceived or judged by strangers outside our circle. You can’t please everyone – but you can please yourself by owning your identity and embracing what makes you different from all the other onions.
Howard J. Davis, aka HAUI is a multi-disciplinary entrepreneur of many artistic trades, including performance, directing, design & visual arts. He was born in the United Kingdom to mixed Caribbean, Taino/Arawak and European heritage before moving to Canada and attending Ryerson Theatre School.
HAUI has worked at the Stratford Festival as an assistant director as part of the inaugural bud’s program (part of the Michael Langham Director’s Workshop Presentation) He has also worked at Canada’s Shaw Festival as an actor and designer. HAUI also worked at the National Arts Centre as an assistant director, directing/design intern at the Grand Theatre. He designed video for the Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop, worked with Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company and Neptune Theatre as a designer, and has performed with Native Earth Performing Arts, Cahoots Theatre, Paper Canoe Projects, and Factory Theatre. His work as a filmmaker emphasizes history and how it can inform our current sociopolitical climate. He hopes to continue the practice of telling stories of his heritage, marginalized cultures not at the forefront of history and modern original works with an emphasis on bridging classical, theatrical and historical context to contemporary cinema and stage.
In 2020 he was slated to be video designing the world premiere of Hamlet 911 by Anne-Marie MacDonald at the Stratford Festival directed by Alisa Palmer. In addition to being recognized as an award-winning director for C`est Moi – about the history of Marie-Josephe Angelique and working with Marie Clements on Red Snow, he recently completed his documentary MixedUp. I’ve watched the film and it is a masterpiece. A personal story that often wrestles with the idea of self-expression and owning your identity no matter who is watching. It’s a story of belonging when you don’t fit into the mold and accepting hard truths. It’s also a story of great strength and loving yourself despite being different. HAUI is a remarkable artist with a rainforest of creative ideas spawned from his individualism. He has truly reached the top of the mountain with this film and it has to be seen to be appreciated.
HAUI’s photography has been published in Harpers Bazaar UK, Amina Magazine (Paris) and was used in the design for Canadian Opera Company’s 2018 world premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Hadrian’. A humble artistic genius capable of changing societies views of normalcy through film – a trailblazer and real maverick!
I was honoured to speak to HAUI about his documentary MixedUp and he was incredibly forthright, candid and genuine. It was marvelous, it was inspiring and it was personal…
HNM “Congratulations on making an amazing film. The editing was brilliant – it felt like I was watching one big art piece. It must’ve taken a considerable amount of time to put together?”
HAUI “The bulk of production took 4 months, but I started writing it in 2018 – 2019… then the pandemic hit and everything was cancelled, so workwise – it made sense to dedicate this time to get this built.”
HNM “Who would you consider your target audience is for this film?”
HAUI “That’s a good question, because I think we’ve come to realize in this culture, that we tend to produce work for white audiences. I’m generalizing, but the majority of audiences that consume art in Canada, as well as other mixed individuals. We will all be mixed someday; we are not a homogenized society. I call it a ‘mixed-up’ manifesto – because it’s not an ultimate perspective. I liken myself to what Kara Walker (contemporary artist, filmmaker) says… ‘I’m an unreliable narrator’, which I love because it’s one perspective.”
HNM “Has your dad seen the film?”
HAUI “You’re the second person that’s asked that… he hasn’t, and it’s such a delicate relationship that I’m constantly bridging with him. I don’t know how he’ll react to the film – but I think it’s evident that I love him a lot in this film and it will be interesting to see how he hears it.”
HNM “Are you a little perplexed as to why he can’t have a close relationship with you because of your sexual orientation?”
HAUI” It does perplex me, but he is coming around, however – I don’t want to excuse his opinion, because we should all be accepting of all race and all orientations. He’s of another generation, that I have to acknowledge because it’s unfamiliar territory. I believe he will come around… one step at a time.”
HNM “What was the catalyst that prompted you to make this film?”
HAUI “It’s funny, because I feel its accumulative – it’s many seeds of inspiration. It was certainly born out of my innate desire to have this story shared… and to legitimize a queer, diverse personal narrative. As an actor, I’ve spent so much time questioning, ‘who is this character?’ and ‘what type of role am I playing?’ So much about the film industry is about pegging who you are, but as artists – we want to be transformative. We’re asked to stay in our own lane and to play what we know. For me – it’s a bit like putting a square peg into a round hole. I’ve been told – I’m not straight enough, not gay enough, not white enough or not black enough. This was a chance for me… to push against those conformist/societal standards and break down those pre-conceived ideas. Those questions I ask in the film are questions that most of us ask, as human beings… that are worth navigating/investigating.”
HNM “You are so well versed in such a variety of art, film and performance – it really came through in this film. I couldn’t decide if you were a better performer or better filmmaker. With so many tools in your toolbox, do you have a preference?”
HAUI “…I think so – but I’ve learnt quite quickly, when people find out you can do more things, some opportunities stop happening. I don’t want to have to pick, I enjoy the fluidity of jumping between worlds. Both have their benefits and I love performing, I began my career as a performer… but I feel much more agency as a creator, because I’m not waiting by the phone. I have autonomy as a creator – but to say that I prefer one over the other… I don’t know if I can say that, at this point yet.”
HNM “It would seem that you are quite comfortable on most levels of the art spectrum.”
HAUI “In some ways, yes. This was a really great opportunity to ground all those artistic forms into one – given my work as a visual designer, a photographer and filmmaker. I was able to stretch all those muscles.”
HNM “Since realizing you can use film as a platform for social issues, do you want to move forward in continuing to focus on social issues… or do you want to switch gears and make a narrative film?”
HAUI “As a person of colour, I think our work is innately activism, by the sheer nature of being activists and artists. Moving forward, I’d like to stay within those themes but move toward a long format narrative; possible narrative TV or feature length. I think – it will innately be a social activism project, even though I might be exploring a fictional world in the future. Moving forward, my point of view will be looking outward versus looking inward at myself.”
HNM “I was just informed that you were selected for the Image + Nation Film Festival, as well as the artist’s residency. Can you tell me about that?”
HAUI “Given the pandemic restrictions, I wasn’t sure what was happening with the festival scene and I didn’t think that we would do a festival circuit for this film, but Image + Nation have been interested since the summer. We will be part of the festival from Nov. 19 – Dec. 6th and I’m excited to go back to Montreal; it will be interesting to see how it’s received by a French audience. I’m also doing this beautiful initiative through Black Lives Matter in Toronto, with approx. 15 cohorts. We’re on a 20-month residency funded by BLM Toronto to offer support toward creating work that is arts and activism – which is really where I am right now in my work.”
HNM “Is this residency designed to foster TV or films about racism?”
HAUI “What’s so beautiful about it, is the kaleidoscope of people. We are visual designers, graffiti artists, multi-disciplinary artists… we even have a D-jay in the group. I actually wept the other day because it was so overwhelming – to be accepted into that group. In some ways, the Black community accepts me more, which makes you feel so at home. I’m excited to see what we can create together in 20 months. It’s a huge honour.”
HNM “When will that be happening?”
HAUI “Our first meeting was yesterday and this Friday, we’ll be having a 2-hour workshop by 2 black artists/activists from the UK. There’s dancers in the group, there’s DJ’s in the group, there’s filmmakers… there’s a web-designer in the group – it’s insanely cool.”
HNM “Will this residency be virtual or is everyone going to Toronto?”
HAUI “It will start initially socially distanced, but the goal is for all of us to be together. I believe there’s a possibility of coming together in a couple of weeks.”
HNM “When can people see MixedUp?”
HAUI “It comes out Nov. 11, on Out TV, Amazon Prime and Apple TV.”
HNM “What has this film taught you about yourself?”
HAUI “Umm… another great question. I think it’s taught me that I have a legitimate voice and an interesting lived experience, that I hope resonates with people. The biggest takeaway… is that, art truly transforms.”
HAUI later admitted to me that he also edited the film. A labour of love and a marinade of artistic expression. If you’ve ever struggled with identity, then this film can give you the keys to a way out.