Language, music and art have always been cultural exchanges. That’s how we humans roll. We share and cross-fertilize. If you don’t recognized how entwined we are, then you best get to reading some history. Lots of it.
We have been sharing artistically for millennia. We mutually appreciate our fellow creatives on this planet. We inspire each other in countless ways — a musical rhythm, a colorful pattern, a delicious recipe, a way of styling hair, folding a scarf, herb knowledge, a good story, a sad melody.
The attempt by some social activists to draw artistic boundaries between us and insist that those borders cannot be crossed is absurd and futile. Censorship and intellectual tyranny stifle mutual respect. Don’t fall for the silliness of “cultural appropriation”.
I was at the soft opening of Slāv on 26/6/18, a presentation by Ex Machina sponsored by Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM). Friends who worked on the show had comped us tix. Outside the theater a small group of outraged social activists were protesting. They were outraged that the white singer/writer Beatrice Bonnafassi who is Serbian/Italian and the director Robert Lepage who is French Canadian and gay — created a show with themes of slavery. They claimed that the show was a “rip-off” by white people of their black western hemisphere experience.
They were aggressive, rude, almost hysterical. They formed a gauntlet that we had to push through to get to the theatre entrance. They screamed at us that we were privileged, that we were racists. One pushed a poster into my face literally rubbing my nose on it.
I thought how very silly this ado was. I asked one man yelling at me whether he had seen the show. He hadn’t. None of them had seen the show yet. They couldn’t have because this was the first public performance. Why are these people in such a lather over a show they hadn’t even seen?
“Slāv” is a musical play aka an artful expression of a sorrowful human experience. The work is not a farce or mockery. It is not stereotyping or denigrating others. It is not stealing from others for profit.
The protestors could have been using their energy to fight serious issues like chemical pollution or income disparity or detention centres for asylum seekers or, hey, sex slave trafficking. But, no. They picked the low-hanging fruit of a musical created by a popular artist and director at a world class festival, undoubtedly to nab headlines.
The festival after originally supporting the show, eventually caved to the protesters’ political correctness tantrum and cancelled the show.
Shame on you, FIJM for being cowed by these dilettantes. You let nonsense trump freedom of expression.
- The cast of “Slāv” was all women and diverse — Bonnafassi and 6 others.
- Slāv is a reference to the origin of the word slave. Slavs — those living in the areas now called Eastern Europe — were regularly enslaved throughout the Middle Ages. Bonnafassi, of Serbian heritage, is sensitive to this.
- All of us can claim some form of enslavement in our ancestors’ past. Most human cultures have enslaved others regardless of skin color.
- No single culture or racial group owns suffering. We are all in this together.
- Beatrice Bonnafassi drove home the issue of modern-day slavery eloquently in the show. Yes, slavery goes on just like it has for centuries. There are more people enslaved now then at any time in history.
The protestors and commentators in the media kept referring to the profits being made in theatre. They imagine the director, creator and performers all making oodles of dough off of this “appropriation”. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha … oh. my. word. Do they know anything about theater? … Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha …
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