On February 6th 2020, I attended an assembly called “Appropriate This!: The Slav & Kanata Debacles.” It spoke about a man named Robert Lepage who was making documentaries based on false historical background. Robert Lepage is a “Canadian writer, director, designer, and actor known for his highly original stage and film productions.” The Panel discussions spoke of two of his cultural plays; one called Slav that was about African American history and the other called Kanata about First Nation history.
The two speakers shared their unappreciated experience with Robert Lepage. For both of his plays, he demonstrated both cultures stories falsely and each of his plays didn’t even include African American or Indiginous actors. When he was confronted about his cultural appropriations, he reasoned by saying that his films are “artistical” and he can portray them as he wants. The issue here is that indigenous and African American people have been mainly excluded from society and they have a lot of background and sentimental information about their story. If their story is to be told, it should be told in the most honest and truthful way and it should be demonstrated by people of that culture. It is their experience, their history and their story to tell.
When I spoke to other students, they expressed the same feelings of injustice as everyone else. It isn’t fair or right that this man could portray a play with such false background and even after being approached about the situation, still neglect their opinions.
There have been many articles written about these plays; it stirred up a lot of tension from people defending the representation of their culture.
Here a article speak about both the Kanata play and Slav play, it quotes: “Another one of Quebec director Robert Lepage’s productions is mired in controversy, following an uproar over SLĀV, his show about black spiritual slave songs sung by a mostly white cast and headlining Betty Bonifassi, a white singer, that was cancelled by the Montreal International Jazz Festival after a few performances.
Lepage’s upcoming show Kanata, about Indigenous people, once again without any real representation or artistic input from the very communities it is about, prompted 20 Indigenous artists and activists to write a letter that was published in Le Devoir.”
I enjoyed listening to this speech because I wasn’t aware of this issue and I hope Robert Lepage becomes wiser regarding the issue and doesn’t happen again.