Year of Production: 2019
At what point does a story, a work of art, or a film become unacceptable cultural appropriation? Is it permissible to appropriate the stories of historically oppressed, colonized, and dispossessed people? These issues, until recently confined to debates with little or no media coverage, suddenly emerged at the forefront of social, artistic, and even political debate.
Minority and historically exploited groups have long denounced their low visibility in the mass media, but the fight for equality no longer concerns just representativeness. It now focuses on the content of the works themselves.
Among these, the production of SLĀV, by director Robert Lepage and singer Betty Bonifassi, is one of the most controversial in Canada, with members of Afro-descendant communities denouncing the lack of black creators and actors in the project. In the summer of 2018, the Festival international de Jazz de Montréal decided to cancel SLĀV after only three performances. Everyone and their brother seems to have an opinion on the matter...even though almost no one has seen the show.
In this controversy, all parties spoke out, sometimes even shouted out, but no one really understood what the other side was saying. In the hope of advancing this societal debate, participants on both sides have agreed to talk to us and to talk to each other. So, in a calm and respectful manner, they discuss the various aspects that have made headlines in Canada’s major media.
Journalist Véronique Lauzon and documentary filmmakers Maryse Legagneur and Arnaud Bouquet have opened their microphones to both the artists behind SLĀV and to those who were outraged by the production. They interview experts in the field, as well as those who made public statements on the matter. Some among them believe that the concept of cultural appropriation should be tossed in the garbage. Others heartily disagree. Why?
In the winter of 2019, after some adjustments, SLĀV was presented again in a few Quebec cities. After just five performances, the show was pulled from the stage.