The idea of having to hide a part of your heritage from the wider world often strikes most of us as something out of science fiction. But for many growing up in a not-too-distant past, this existential subterfuge was all too real as related in Shelly Niro’s latest feature Café Daughter.
Inspired by the life of retired Canadian Senator Lillian Dyck, the film centres on the travails of the young mixed-race Yvette Wong, first as a child (Violah Beauvais) and then a teenager (Star Slade) as she attempts to carve out a future for herself as a woman of colour in decidedly white-centric 1960s Saskatchewan. This isn’t made any easier by her mother (Sera-Lys McArthur) insisting that she and her brother (Evan Lau) keep their Cree heritage hidden while hoping they can all pass as Chinese.
After a traumatic death in the family, Yvette is determined to become a doctor, despite being discouraged by sexist teachers and a father (Tom Lim) who seems more keen to return to China and marry her off. But it’s in friends and extended family that Yvette finds her true strength in the face of adversity and the courage to embrace her dreams as well as both halves of her heritage.
Niro manages to craft a spirited coming-of-age story that manages to capably distil complex etho-relations through a small-scale humanistic lens. The film is in good hands with an excellent cast and commendable attention to period detail (not easy to pull off on CANCON budgets). Recommended.
Café Daughter can be screened virtually at the online edition of the imagineNATIVE festival until October 29