The power of refusal: a conversation with Black Canadian filmmakers on the word ‘nah’

June 5, 2023
Kimberly Duong

by Kimberly Duong, Criminology Honours Major, 4th year at York University


What does it mean to say “nah?” What does it mean when we use language to push the boundaries of how content with oppression and discrimination? Colloquial words like ‘nah’ can be embedded with profound meaning when critically analyzed. 

A conversation with Cheryl Foggo, an independent filmmaker, and Sylvia Hamilton, a professor at the University of King’s College, asked attendees to consider “nah” as a possible word for refusing to accept all forms of oppression and power, formal and informal, that there’s power in saying “nah” to what oppresses and dominates. In their conversation, they illustrated how “nah” is a response to history, a representation, a refusal, and a resistance to racism. 

The word “nah” so easily lulls off the tongue, and yet can be so powerful when one utters it. It is a refusal to accept racist and oppressive structures, norms, and behaviours. In a research context, what does analyzing this language mean? The speakers discussed missing indexes in a census archive, particularly of Black and Indigenous peoples, as an act of historical erasure. Without this type of archive, or history, stories become lost in both the past and present. They explained that through film archives, stories of Black Canadians and the language used to tell them can be stored.  

To this point, Cheryl Foggo’s response to a question about trusting the accuracy of traditional archives was: “to trust my stories more.” Through filmmaking, Black Canadians can archive and document they said, and in so say “nah” to exclusionary histories.