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Subban blackface portrayal denounced by Montreal artists

01/14/2015 10:24 EST | Updated 03/16/2015 05:59 EDT
A group of Montreal artists has signed an open letter criticizing the use of blackface in theatre following the recent portrayal of P.K. Subban in local production.

Last month, a white actor in the Théâtre du Rideau Vert’s annual year-end production had his face painted black to portray the famous Habs defenceman.

Quincy Armorer, the artistic director at the Black Theatre Workshop, is among those who signed the letter to Théâtre du Rideau Vert panning the move.

“I think it’s not so much about pointing fingers at any particular organization or person who is doing it. I think we’re just calling for the importance of a discussion and why the practice is outdated and really needs to stop,” Armorer told CBC Radio's Daybreak Montreal.

“People have a choice to use this practice that is rooted in racism, or they have a choice to not use it.”

The letter was prepared by the arts group Diversité Artistique Montréal and signed by a long lists of both francophone and anglophone artists and theatre groups, including the Quebec Drama Federation, Centaur Theatre, and the Segal Centre. 

Théâtre du Rideau Vert could not be reached by CBC for comment, but the artistic director Denise Filiatrault told Montreal's La Presse newspaper the portrayal of Subban “wasn’t blackface.”

Filiatrault said she was “shocked, outraged, and humiliated” by the reaction. The 83-year-old said she has been in the business for 60 years and was the first person to hire a black Quebecer on television.

She said didn't want to hire a black actor to play Subban for 12 seconds in her year-end show because her theatre couldn't afford it.

In response, Armorer told CBC, “the problem with that for me is, why if you hire a black actor, that’s the only thing he can do, is play P.K. Subban? Why can’t you use that black actor in any of the other skits in your two hour show?”

Pat Donnelly, the longtime theatre critic for the Montreal Gazette, said recently that Quebec theatre is notorious for casting white people in non-white roles.

"This is nothing new in Quebec theatre. It’s been going on as long as I’ve been a theatre critic, which is 30 years," Donnelly said.

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