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The puppet that won’t make you laugh

Black History Month organizers racked their brains to host discussions and roundtables on interesting topics such as entrepreneurial innovation in black communities or black women and power.

Posted yesterday at 7:15am


Unfortunately, it’s a puppet that gets all the attention.

Described as “grotesque” by its critics, this doll appears in the show The Incredible Secret of Blackbeard, presented by theater man Franck Sylvestre since 2009. This play for young audiences tells the story of a boy who discovers a mysterious box that holds a 400-year-old secret. So he can reconstruct the story of the famous Blackbeard.

This story features a character named Max who is portrayed by a doll whose appearance is inspired by the performer himself. Note that Franck Sylvestre is of Martinican origin. So the doll is black. And she has caricatural traits, as is often the case with dolls.

This show, which until then had not attracted much attention, was scheduled in Pointe-Claire (February 26) and Beaconsfield (February 27). Alarmed by citizens who felt the doll portrayed a negative image of black people, the West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA) and the Red Coalition stepped in. In light of the outcry, the Beaconsfield community decided to cancel the performance.

Representatives of these associations (Joan Lee, President of WIBCA, Joel DeBellefeuille and Alain Babineau, respectively Founding President and Director of the Red Coalition) held a press conference in Roxboro on Friday morning. I listened to the recording. For them, the appearance of the “doll” has the same effect as blackface, that theatrical practice based on the creation of a make-up to turn an actor into a black person.

The puppet that wont make you laugh


In turn: the director of the Red Coalition, Alain Babineau; Joan Lee, President of the West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA), and Joel Debellefeuille, Founding President of the Red Coalition. The two interest groups wanted to denounce the black puppet of Franck Sylvestre’s show on Friday.

The danger in this case would be to do the job in two strokes by claiming that black puppets are everywhere, especially in the famous Passe Partout series. Granted, these are prettier and more sophisticated than Max. But do we determine a doll’s raison d’être by its aesthetics? Here we interfere with the freedom of the creators.

Should dolls depicting people from cultural communities be banned? Should the characters who convey stereotypes be eliminated? It is true that Barbie, with her surreal forms, is not appreciated by many women who want her to be swept away with her pink jeep and her shoe collection.

This seemingly banal puppet story forces us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, minorities or vulnerable groups. Imagine for a moment a doll depicting a gay man who would be a mad Christian Lalancette finisher. what would you say Imagine a doll depicting a blonde woman with large breasts. What would you think? Imagine a doll representing a Quebecer wearing a plaid shirt and an arrow sash. How would you react?

Yes, caricature has its place everywhere in art. It depends on how it fits into a work, how it reaches us and, above all, what message it conveys.

I am the first to defend the interests of marginalized groups and try to understand their reality. I’ve recently championed blackout parties because I feel like there’s nothing to write home about as ultimately everyone has access to the event.

But in the case that concerns us, was it necessary to go as far as a media action aimed at banning this show? Wouldn’t a simple warning coupled with a truly nuanced discussion serve the cause better?

I didn’t like the tone Alain Babineau used during the press conference. He initially said he was pleased to see that several French media were present. “The issue of racism is sensitive, you know,” he said.

Alain Babineau has repeatedly insisted on Quebec’s French-speaking nature to speak about the systemic racism he believes reigns here.

When a journalist asked him if he was censoring, he replied no and that it was the Beaconsfield Municipality’s decision to cancel the show. “The only censorship is the doll,” he said. Uh… when you censor a crucial element that is part of a show, you censor the show.

Alain Babineau was the sharpest of the three speakers. He answered questions by closing a door each time. “If they tell you it’s not true, then that’s it! There’s no conversation to be had,” he said, before adding, “If you’re here this morning trying to convince us not to say anything, you’re part of the problem. »

Where I totally lost it was when Joel DeBellefeuille mentioned the bye-bye sketch called Google Black, which very clearly and with a lot of humor denounced the difficulty for black people to live with racial profiling. He refused to acknowledge that it was a whistleblower, adding that it was no laughing matter. “Someone told me that humor is different in Quebec,” added Alain Babineau. It’s not funny! When are people getting it? »

These representatives have promised to continue their fight to eliminate this puppet from Franck Sylvestre’s show. Are they doing it right? I strongly doubt it.

The blind spot in this case: The show The Incredible Mystery of Blackbeard has been presented since 2009. After 14 years, an eternity in our world, it might be time the creator I was trying to reach unsuccessfully considered a change in furnishings and accessories.