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TIFF film 'Current War' includes African-Canadian inventor Elijah McCoy

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon speaks during a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival for the movie "The Current War" on Sunday, September 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Donovan
September 10, 2017 - 2:22 PM

TORONTO - Famous inventors Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla take the spotlight in "The Current War" but the period drama also includes a lesser-known Canadian genius, Elijah McCoy.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon says he went out of his way to include the prolific pioneer, best known for creating a cup that fed lubricating oil to moving machinery, including steam engines.

McCoy was born in Colchester, Ont., in the 1830s to Kentucky slaves who escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad.

Gomez-Rejon told a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival that he felt "a responsibility" to make his film racially diverse, while still accurate for the time.

He says McCoy actually knew Edison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and had worked with Westinghouse, played by Michael Shannon. Nicholas Hoult plays Tesla.

The film traces the race for marketable electricity in the United States between Edison and Westinghouse.

"Just in casting the film ... (I thought), 'How diverse can it be and still be real?'" Gomez-Rejon said Sunday.

"What was the world at the time? ... And in the research, Elijah McCoy, a Canadian, had done some work I think with lubrication of brakes or something and he knew Edison, had worked with Westinghouse. So why not invite him to a party at the Westinghouses?"

According to Historica Canada, McCoy's cup device was so effective and highly regarded that other manufacturers copied it.

None worked as well as McCoy's version and so Canadian and American railroaders began asking for it by name as the "real McCoy" — giving rise to the idiom used to refer to a genuine article.

McCoy went on to run his own firm and file 57 other patents in Canada and the United States. They include a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler.

Gomez-Rejon said including him in the film was "an important touch."

"If I could do anything and it still felt historically accurate, I thought that that was a responsibility. It was important to me to add that as much as I possibly could to the film."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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