Children’s play scheduled for Black History Month sparks controversy in Pointe-Claire

Click to play video: 'Calls to cancel play in Pointe-Claire over racially problematic character'
Calls to cancel play in Pointe-Claire over racially problematic character
Watch: Some Pointe-Claire residents are calling for a play to be cancelled because of a character deemed to be disturbing. The play, by French artist Franck Sylvestre, has travelled Quebec and is set to hit the West Island stage on February 26. But as Gloria Henriquez reports, the artist calls it a complete misunderstanding.. – Feb 3, 2023

Allison Saunders was taken aback when she saw a postcard promoting a show that was part of the Black History Month programming in Pointe-Claire.

“If I show that to a four year-old… it’s scary, full stop,” Saunders said.

The show, L’Incroyable secret de Barbe Noire or Black Beard’s Incredible Secret, features a puppet depicting Black people in a way she considers racially problematic.

Saunders believes it’s not appropriate, especially because the play is geared towards children.

“If they’ve never had an interaction with a Black person or any positive interactions with Black people and this is the puppet that they see depicted of a scary ‘sauvage’ from the jungle…. A four to 10 year old who may not an opinion yet formed may form one based on what they see,” Saunders said.

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Saunders wrote a letter to Pointe-Claire city council, asking the mayor to cancel the play.

Councillor Tara Stainforth, who chairs the city’s Diversity and Social Inclusion Committee and who had spoken to Saunders, says she requested the image be taken down and the play removed from Pointe-Claire’s Black History Month’s programming.

“There are two reasons, the main reason being that imagery and we wanted to look further into it but also because I didn’t feel that the story of Black Beard necessarily was a story that was part of Black History month, even through the presenter is Black and I know he is quite renowned in Quebec, which is wonderful, and we’re happy to have him as a part of our roster regularly.”

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While the play was removed from the city’s Black History Month programming, it’s still scheduled to show in the spring.

Mayor Tim Thomas says he’s open to removing it but he’d like to hear from the artist and the Black community first.

“It’s hard for us to adjudicate saying we know better or weigh in until we’ve heard from the bulk of the community on it. There is this thing called artistic freedom, artistic expression that has to be protected,” Thomas told Global News.

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Thomas says he will reach out to the West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA).

The artist is Franck Sylvestre, a French immigrant with Martiniquan roots.

He says he is surprised by the backlash and that he never intended to offend. Sylvestre adds that his puppet is a character he created 25 years ago, an exaggerated caricature based on himself.

“It’s the principle of children’s shows. Things are big, colours are strong, things are not refined,” explained Sylvestre. “Is it that because the character has Black skin that we can’t do children’s theatre with it? Is that it?”

Sylvestre invites people who are upset to watch the hour-long play and then have a conversation with him.

Meanwhile, Saunders wants to have a conversation with the mayor and moving forward, suggests that the city includes people from the community to choose Black History Month programming.

It’s something Stainforth says the city is already working on.


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