We are a group of visual artists, musicians, writers, academics, community organizers, and journalists, but more importantly, we are concerned Montréalers. We have watched with astonishment and disgust as a theatrical production based on African-American slave songs was coordinated by a group of white people, performed by a cast of predominantly white people, and presented by the Festival International du Jazz de Montréal at Théatre du Nouveau Monde. We are alarmed by the dismissal and silencing of Black voices in the creation, development, staging, and promotion of the show SLĀV.
These songs were born out of the needs of African-descended peoples while in bondage. These songs were used by these peoples to lift their spirits while they endured perpetual physical, sexual, and mental abuse. They were also used to communicate maps and escape routes. These slave songs were born out of the myriad types of violence established, perpetrated, and maintained by a white power structure. To now have that violence exploited for profit by white artists and producers both embodies and perpetuates the historical exploitation and marginalization of Black populations in Québec and the world over.
The myriad problems with the show SLĀV have brought us, a diverse group of Montréalers, together to devise and make a series of demands upon the major parties directly and indirectly responsible for the show. Specifically:
1. We call on the artists, producers, and other cultural actors involved with SLĀV to cease their involvement with the show. We also call on Ex Machina (the production company behind the show) to cancel all future performances of the show and create space and opportunities for Black-led projects in which people can tell their own stories rather than having white artists tell the stories in their place.
2. We call on the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde and its Director, Lorraine Pintal, to issue an apology for hosting SLĀV and undergo a public and external evaluation of their programming. We demand that TNM commit to hiring Black writers, directors, and actors
3. We call on the Festival International du Jazz de Montréal to acknowledge Roué-Doudou Boicel as the founder of the Montreal Jazz Festival in all publications (including the Festival website) and develop an equity policy with specific targets for artists from Black, Indigenous, and other communities of colour (BIPOC).
4. We call on Québec Premier, Philippe Couillard and Québec Minister of Culture and Communications, Marie Montpetit, to rectify the present racial inequalities in public funding for the arts in Quebec that has led to productions like SLĀV. We demand that a financed measure be added to the recently released Quebec cultural action plan and that Black professionals be added to the advisory and scientific boards in charge of the cultural policy.
5. We call on the two public funders of SLĀV, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) and the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA), to dedicate funding and capacity-building resources toward BIPOC artists. We demand that they institute a policy that requires consultation with BIPOC artists for evaluating the validity of a (potentially) funded project’s engagement with BIPOC communities.
6. We call on TD Bank, the corporate sponsor of the Jazz Festival, to respect its stated commitment to diversity when it comes to its sponsorships and engagements with sponsored events, a commitment that was not respected in case of SLĀV and its erasure of Black voices and stories.
7. We call on Québec media organizations, many of which praised SLĀV and failed to provide equivalent space to Black voices to express their views, to provide more space to Black voices and prevent the backlash that Black people currently receive when they speak out about racial inequality and oppression. We demand that Québec media commit to hiring journalists from BIPOC communities and provide increased space for critical discussions about the treatment received by these communities in Québec.
8. We call on the Montréal public to respect peaceful protestors and their personal lives and privacy. We demand that the harassment and death threats issued to activists opposing the show SLĀV cease and that people take responsibility to educate themselves about issues (like racism and cultural appropriation) that they do not face. We also invite people to donate the same amount of money they spent on Jazz Festival tickets to Black community organizations such as DESTA, Hoodstock, Black Theatre Workshop, Librarie Racines, the BCHM, Black Lives Matter, Maison d’Haïti, and Songs for Betty.