TESSEL: a short film highlighting Black Canadian excellence from coast to coast

Esie Mansah provides an emotive look at history, justice, and resilience

14 artists team up for this innovative new project. Image courtesy of Felix Russell and Tony Tran

By: Tiffany Chang, Peak Associate

I always appreciate art that initiates dialogue about representation. It is an impactful way for people to express themselves, and it creates continuous learning opportunities for audiences. TESSEL, a powerful short film by esteemed choreographer Esie Mensah, does just this. The piece discusses the unique experiences of Black Canadians while referencing history. It considers how long-standing, but evolving, perceptions of their worth have influenced their lives in modern society.

From racism and social change to self-love and mental health struggles, TESSEL encompasses all of these topics. The 14 featured Black Canadian artists each showcase emotive body movement — using different styles of dance like tap and hip-hop — and engage in reflective narration. This combination makes for a hard-hitting video that shows how much the artists have to offer. It also emphasizes why their voices matter when addressing the need for a diverse cultural landscape.

Not only are the performers conveying their individuality and key messages through choreographed routines, TESSEL’s strategic cinematography also draws attention to the broader connotations behind its symbolism. A particularly compelling moment early on is when Yvon “Crazy Smooth” Soglo looks out into the distance, slowly making a fist, while a narrator says, “what I used to tolerate, I don’t anymore.” From this action, a sense of anguish, as well as a strong determination to be seen and heard, can be felt. Simultaneously, it helps set the tone for a raw, honest compilation of artistic and emotional expression.  

The film’s theme of resilience is beautifully demonstrated, and it is undertaken in both direct and unexpected ways. A meaningful example is the generational significance of “resting,” which is a topic I had never come across until now. The artists explain how slavery meant resting was not an option for Black people. Therefore, taking the time to rest is what their ancestors would have wanted for themselves and what the following generations deserve to have. The resiliency in this respect is profound. These artists inform the rest of Canada how they absolutely have the right to claim something that has been historically and repeatedly stolen from them.

TESSEL encompasses so many arguments, emotions, and creative pieces in a 15-minute video. Viewers will see a refreshingly authentic take on the social climate for individuals in the Black Canadian community, proving that current activism efforts are just the beginning.