In case you haven’t been keeping up with Quebec movie news (or haven’t been around Brendan Kelly for the past two weeks), there’s been a bit of a media dust-up over comments made by director Jacob Tierney to La Presse’s Nicolas Bérubé, complaining that Quebec cinema is too francophone and too white:
«La société québécoise est extrêmement tournée sur elle-même, dit Tierney. Notre art et notre culture ne présentent que des Blancs francophones. Les anglophones et les immigrants sont ignorés. Ils n’ont aucune place dans le rêve québécois. C’est honteux.»
Since Tierney, who’s behind that new movie The Trotsky, decided to touch on that Two Solitudes button, you can imagine there was a lot of reaction (they’re even talking about it on those social media things). And most of the reaction takes one of three predictable sides:
- Agreeing with Tierney: Quebec cinema is too white, too francophone, and needs to better reflect its multicultural reality – and those who battle Tierney’s arguments are intolerant
- Lashing out at Tierney, putting together a list of black Quebec actors (Normand Brathwaite, Gregory Charles, Boucar Diouf and Dany Laferrière will feature prominently in such lists) and Quebec films that have languages other than French (those lists tend to include Bon Cop Bad Cop, their makers apparently unaware that the box-office smash was made by Tierney’s father), and saying that because there are black people or anglos in Quebec cinema Tierney must be wrong and hate Quebec
- Defend the whiteness and Frenchness of Quebec cinema, because Quebec is a small island in a sea of English, because Canadian films don’t feature francophones and because Quebec culture needs to assert itself
The problem with each of these responses is that it takes a black or white view on an issue that is hardly so clear-cut, and only serves to further divide the two solitudes.
Reality isn’t quite so simple.
Argue now, think later
I’m not a film buff, nor am I an expert in Quebec culture. In fact, I’m probably the most uncultured person I know. The last anglo film I saw in an actual movie theatre was, I think, Star Trek. The last franco film? Dans une galaxie près de chez vous 2. This means I haven’t seen J’ai tué ma mère or Avatar or De père en flic or The Hurt Locker or Polytechnique or any of the Twilight movies or … well, you get the picture. I want to see them eventually (well, not the Twilight movies), but I don’t have much free time and it’s rare I’ll find something so interesting I’ll want to pay $12 to watch it in a theatre rather than wait a couple of years and see it on cable.
Anyway, so I’m no expert, and I have no figures to point to in my analysis. If you want an expert’s opinion, I’d read this piece by Marc Cassivi, who takes a detached view of the matter.
But reading the comments, particularly at Cyberpresse but also elsewhere, it’s as if we’re still battling for the Plains of Abraham, only this time the army on both sides is comprised of Internet trolls.
Some people have suggested that Tierney doesn’t know what he’s talking about because, like all anglophones, he’s never actually seen a Quebec-made movie and hates French – both suggestions are preposterous. Some have said he’s a hypocrite for taking advantage of tax credits and other government financial incentives for creating home-grown movies, as if taking money from the government (which every filmmaker does here) somehow removes him of his right to criticize Quebec cinema. Many have accused him of outright Quebec-bashing.
And there are those who argue that Quebec films shouldn’t be more multicultural or include more anglophones, because those people are not true Quebecers.
Speaking strictly from the perspective of an uncultured consumer, I think Tierney has a point. There are a lot of white faces out there, even when you include Brathwaite, Charles, Diouf and others. And while there are examples of bits of English in Quebec cinema, it’s not at the kind of level one would find during a normal day in Montreal.
The other day, I watched Bon Cop Bad Cop on TV. It was on an English-language Canadian movie channel, so the French bits were subtitled (when Patrick Huard says “En tout cas, y’a un bon coup de patin!” – a pun that doesn’t translate into English – you see the value in knowing the language instead of relying on those subtitles). Seeing people interact in two languages at the same time – even switching between the two in mid-sentence – just seems so rare these days on screen, even though it happens so often in real life.
I’ll let one of the Cyberpresse commenters explain:
Le problème, c’est qu’il n’y a jamais de mélange. Les deux solitudes comme on dit. La télé francophone d’un côté, la télé anglophone de l’autre. Et jamais on invite un anglophone dans une émission sur la télé francophone, et inversement. C’est pareil dans le cinéma. En plus de ça, les gens sont allergiques aux sous-titres dans les films, il faut dire qu’on ne leur donne pas trop le choix, vu la programmation 100% doublé de la plupart des cinémas, quel que soit le film.
Even with the huge numbers of bilingual people in Montreal, Quebec and places near Quebec borders, there’s a resistance to bilingualism in our culture. Television, radio, newspapers, even most websites have to choose one or the other. Anything said or written in the other language has to be subtitled, dubbed or translated so that the audience can understand. There are no bilingual television stations or cable channels (besides CPAC), no bilingual radio stations (at least no commercial ones), and only a single bilingual newspaper.
Some angry online commenters will say that the problem isn’t Quebec, it’s the Rest of Canada that doesn’t feature francophones. In fact, it’s both. Which is odd because Bon Cop Bad Cop was one of the highest-grossing films in both Canadian and Quebec history (even though it was much more popular in Quebec than in the rest of Canada). You’d think both sides would catch on to that and start taking advantage of the power of language unity.
One movie in production seems to be. Funkytown also stars Patrick Huard, and is slated for release in December:
… but he’s also wrong
Where Tierney is off the mark is in making it seem (whether intentionally or not) that this is all Quebec’s fault. The tone of the criticism has forced people to become defensive about the Quebec film industry instead of giving his two cents some thought.
It’s funny because this industry needs so little defence. It’s incredible how successful home-grown cinema is here, particularly when compared to English Canada. A modest showing in Quebec would be considered a mega hit if it made the same amount at the box office in English Canada.
Some of the other points Tierney brings up also don’t convince me. I don’t think Quebec is too concerned with the past or with its own majority culture (these themes are strong here, but shouldn’t they be?). I don’t think cinema here is racist. I don’t think the Jutras are unrepresentative of Quebec society, which outside of Montreal is very francophone and very white. And while I think there’s room for more multiculturalism and more languages in Quebec cinema, I don’t say so with nearly the same accusatory style as Tierney’s comments.
And there are a lot of things he’s missing, too. For one thing, Tierney seems to be arguing that Quebec cinema isn’t Montreal-centric enough, which might cause those living in small towns to laugh out loud. Quebec culture is far too Montreal-centric, even if about half of Quebecers live within 50km of the city’s centre. The clique du Plateau should be replaced with more of a focus on Gaspé, Trois-Rivières, Baie-Comeau, Alma, Nunavik, Kahnawake and, yes, the West Island.
If that happens, Canadian cinema would be embarrassed, not having nearly the same kind of regional diversity as Quebec cinema would have.
But unlike some online commenters, I don’t believe that the failures of others should give us justification to drag our feet. It’s time for more Tierneys to enter the scene and create a cultural landscape that everyone in Quebec can feel they’re a part of.
UPDATE (Aug. 9): Though a few weeks late to the table, the Gazette’s Don Macpherson shares some thoughts about Tierney’s comments and how anglo Quebecers are still not considered true Quebecers.
There are a couple issues at hand. 1) The state of film making in Quebec. 2) The knee-jerk reaction of many French speaking Quebecers (many, not all) when any criticism is sent their way.
Over the years the local film industry has produced some gems, as you mentioned Steve. I can throw in a couple of my favourites (the awesome 1998 film 2 secondes and 2003’s Les invasions barbares). Take a look at what is being filmed in Montreal and what is slated for release in the coming years (http://www.imdb.com/search/title?locations=Montr%C3%A9al,%20Qu%C3%A9bec,%20Canada&sort=year,desc). The answers to some of the points are obvious from a scroll through this list of films.
I’ll wager those decrying Tierney’s funding by government and tax credits saw no problem with Falardeau’s similar financing; who repeatedly asserted “C’est notre ‘aaarrrgent’, crisse!”
I find it instructive when anglophone commenters trot(sky) out dozens of French-language films as meritorious examples of “our” movies. “They” don’t think anglos are part of their “we,” do they?
Well, Steve, you’ve got some points here, but I shall just correct you one one thing: YOU see people switching back-and-forth between english and french in conversations. But it’s not a common fact among the francophones.
The thing is, cinema, everywhere it is made, takes its basis in the creator’s (for the matter either or both the scenarist and director) own culture, own vision. If my name is Ricardo Trogi and I come from an quebec-italian family, it becomes esaier for me to talk about some relationships between two cultures. If my name is Francis Leclerc and all my friends are french-speaking sovereignists, there’S a lot of chance that my movie will be white, french-speaking and nationalist, or at some point, ignoring any trace of canadian patriotism.
Right now, Jacob Tierney seems to me blaming Quebec for not being what he thinks it is. My own reality of a french-speaking quebecker from east-side Montreal is far from similar to any West-Islander. I know what, two, three english-speaking people. Not that they are my closest friends. Same thing for ethnicity: most of my friends and colleagues are caucasian french-speaking, quebec-native persons. Some are Arabic, coming either from Algeria or Morrocco, but they have integrated the society enough to tell you I can’t say they aren’t Quebeckers. They are. They love poutine, they swear and watch hockey.
Which brings me to another reality Tierney ignores: what kind of immigrant comes here with the desire of becoming an actor? When people immigrate, they are in search of an opportunity to make their lives better. They actually study Business, they become salespersons, they try to get money and insure some kind of a future for their kids. And they try, if not oblige, their kids to go to school in a liberal career. They want success. Most actors know the risk of being an actor. A poor actor, for the matter. Not that all actors are poor. But they rely on their talent and a whole lotta luck to insure a relative success and get a living out of their carreer choice. And that explains why there aren’t that many immigrant actors.
Anglos in Quebec, particularly in Montreal, live a different way than anglos in the ROC. They are submerged with francos. Therefore, they most often have the chance to meet more french people than the French meet Anglos. An example for this is the quasi-total absence of English people in french-speaking universities and the large population of Frogs at Concordia, McGill, etc.
Which brings me back to the creation process. If the creator has always been culturally influenced by both “solitudes” and has socially defined his environment with multiple ethnicities, then the movie shall be in the same essence. But because our cinema is made mostly by and for the “white franco ex-catho” poeple, well we see the result. It’s a no-brainer to me that a Dany Laferrière movie will have more Blacks in it, and that a Podz movie will essentially be white. Why doesn’t Tierney understand that?
And Tierney’s point is that almost all the movies he sees are from that first reality, and (more importantly) too few are from – or include – the second.
>Which brings me to another reality Tierney ignores: what kind of immigrant comes here with the desire of becoming an actor?
This is the kind of mindset Tierney is trying to alter with his views. Do you even realize that you’re writing as if immigration to Quebec is a recent event?
My father’s an immigrant, as are my mother’s parents — and my white roots in this country and province are shallow compared to most of the black and asian people I know.
What will it take for francophone Quebecois to understand that there are ‘ethnic’ populations who have been in this province since the 1800s?
We’re different. We’re not the same nation. We don’t have the same History because our geographies (which shapes History) are different. We have different languages and different cultures (we like big government and you don’t; you trust private entreprise and we don’t). We’ve been ennemies since the 100 years war. We’ll never get along in the same country. We each have to go our separate way. Get over it.
I’m not sure who you’re directing this to, but I think it’s a ridiculous generalization to say that English Canada doesn’t like government and is fiscally conservative. That may be the case in rural Alberta, but not in the Maritimes, urban Ontario or lower B.C.
I’m pretty sure he, Naimard, said “big government” which has a different connotation than “government”…and I think he’s referring to the fact that , as per a study done around 2000, by I believe UQAM and McGill, that Francophone are more inclined to a much more patriarichal(sp) form of government than Anglos, who prefer a less intrusive government.
But “more inclined” doesn’t mean one is and one isn’t. Let’s stop with the generalizations. There are plenty of left-wing anglos (just look at the NDP) and there are plenty of right-wing francos (those who voted ADQ, trash radio hosts, the people of Hérouxville and most of the Liberal party).
(Reply to Fagstein, too, below)
It’s really a cultural thing. We didn’t have a magna carta imposed by corrupt barons on a weak king to soften State power. With time, and with their wealth increasing during the Industrial Revolution, bourgeois came to assume that whatever the State (Government) did was bad, hence the loony right-wingers on free-market, laissez-faire economics and the usual right-wing claptrap.
Meanwhile, the french were under a very corrupt monarchy that, still, was not able to completely assert it’s power over the people. One thing that must have helped tremenduously was geography. France is an incredibly bountiful country, at least compared to the U.K., so people never really were hungry there, by contrast to the U.K. which was soon forced to go overseas to get it’s vital supplies, as the poor little island got depleted. Hence the imperialistic trait of the british people and the largest empire History has ever known.
France was both under a despotic monarchy, and enslaved through the scatholic church (it’s not for nothing the british had those very restrictive laws against scatholics), so it was no surprise that following the Revolution, the french had no problem being under “big” governments.
The same thing is true for us; despite being cut for a quarter millenium from our motherland, we have been treated as a conquered people by the conquerer, who kept all the wealth and opportunity for themselves, and as this conqueror was at the base of an extremely mercantile empire, we have developped a healthy disdain and defiance of merchants and industrialists who raped and plundered our ressources, both human and natural, for centuries before we said “ENOUGH!” and voted ourselves government that seeked to end that state of affairs. And the government magnificently managed to do so; Hydro Québec being the most resplendant exemple of government competence, which completely flies in the face of anglo-saxon culture, tradition and, sadly, experience.
Never underestimate the cultural hangups of everyone. Right-wing french governments are much more to the left and/or rely much more on the State than anglo-saxon ones.
Mario Ducon never outright talked about abolishing completely welfare; he wanted to institute some kind of cheap-labour/semi-slavery system where the “B.S.” would have to work to get their pittance… Whereas the Canadian Reform Alliance Party would want nothing else than all social programs to end, to force those “leeches” to “get a job” and work hard to enrich some entrepreneur, hoping that the “leeches” would feel their punishment for not being “like them” (that’s the “good” “folks” at the C.R.A.P.).
Likewise, if ever the NDP gets to power in Canada, it’s most radical action would not feel any more radical than whatever the Québec liberals have been doing (let’s not forget that over the years, the Québec liberals have occupied the ecological niche left vacant by the Québec conservatives), the cultural bias against government and for entrepreneurs being so hard to shake-up.
Case in point, look at the labour in Britain. Following the disastrous Thatcher/Heseltine years, they certainly have refrained from repairing the damage done, and have left the country in the clutches of several private entrepreneurs performing some “public” “service” (such as public transportation), instead of having government take those domains in charge.
* * *
No, what I mean is that the french and english will never be able to coexist in the same country, because we have such different outlook on Society and Government. And one being dominated by the other is not acceptable either; we have been dominated for a quarter millenium, and it’s doubtful that the english would ever accept to be under french domination, as your* respective hangups clearly indicate.
* That’s a “collective“ you, aimed at all the english.
You need to get out more. I was at a family reunion this weekend (all vielle souche, sauf pour moi) and everyone was railing against stupid government programs, massive tax bills, welfare programs that are overly generous, wasted cash on the fertility program, etc..
On the other hand, I know plenty of English Canadians who are both for and against big government.
I doubt anyone likes to be “dominated” – especially as you’ve described it here – so I don’t see your point when you say that English people will never accept being dominated by French people. Are you arguing that the French are more accepting when it comes to being dominated by “others”? If so, I have to disagree based on Quebec history which seems replete with examples of les Quebecois coming together as a society to reject various forms of domination (i.e. Quiet revolution/Catholic church and the Charter of the French Language). What would the English accepting French domination look like anyways? I ask because I’ve always believed that the English who stayed in Quebec after 1976 essentially did just that – accept French domination in the social-political-economic affairs of this province. Is that not how you see it?
Overall I have to agree with Steve in saying that Tierney’s comments are somewhat right and somewhat wrong. It would be nice to see more in the way of inclusive cinema being produced here but storytelling being so heavily influenced by the story teller, this may not be possible in Quebec, or anywhere that minority and majority populations have a very weak relationship to a unifying national story. Perhaps if Quebec society could become a more inclusive place, then this could be reflected in Quebecois cinema. I say, change society and then the movies will follow!
One thing I think that is important to remember when criticizing franco-centrism (and let’s be clear, by franco-centric I mean descendants of les filles de roi, descendants of white french settlers) is that until extremely recently they did not have political, social, economic, secular, or cultural power. And being a woman I know the next argument “yeah but everything is fine and equal now so stfu about being oppressed or special or needing cultural recognition or whatever!”
It was within the lifetime of my husband’s parents that it was perfectly acceptable for a priest to come to your home and inform you that while he was sure your doctor meant well, God would prefer you to have another baby and risk hemmoraghing to death. Moreover it was unacceptable to tell him to get bent. It was within the lifetime of one of my best friend’s father that you couldn’t go to Eaton’s and get served in French. “We don’t serve French people here.” Please note we’d already had one referendum when this comment was delivered. It was within your parents’ lifetime that the majority of people in this province were not guaranteed the basic right to speak their own language in the workplace (and while one can bitch that the current situation where minority language speakers aren’t guaranteed the right to speak THEIR language at work is deplorable, I dare you to find me one location in the world where minority languages are protected at work).
It’s a fairly recent phenomenon that most are expected to go to university, hold positions in government, society, and such, and basically aren’t assumed to be the “white niggers of north america.”
So if they’re taking a bit of time to stop navel gazing, I think we can give a bit. Anglophone centric culture has been navel gazing for centuries and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. And while there are indeed other cultures in Montreal and Quebec in general, (and did you know Quebec City basically hates on Montreal the same way Montrealers hate on Toronto? It’s not just a myth perpetuated by Lance et Compte!) here’s an idea: how about THEY make THEIR own films? Like wtf was Steven Speilberg doing making the Colour Purple? (something he even says now would have been better being told by someone who actually represented that culture). If people of non-white francophone culture want their stories told, they can go to film school and start shooting and making movies and fighting to get in the same way their francowhite counterparts did. Hopefully with more grace shown to them than was shown to their predecessors. People show the stories they know. WTF, do they want Xavier Dolan shooting a piece about the punjabi uprising in the pointe? Let’s let these people find their own voices and their own stories.
But in the meantime, can we cut the francos some slack? Remember when you first learned to ride a bike and even though you were JUST FINE you didn’t really realize it until you’d been JUST FINE for a while? Bill 101 was passed when I was in preschool. I’m not even old enough to get a pension yet. Let’s stop raining on white francophone culture as if they have no right to be proud of and enjoy themselves and revel in how far they have come. It sounds resentful and petty. You can enjoy and promote other cultures without shitting on the francos, who deserve special recognition as well.
That’s exactly what Tierney is doing. He just wished more could do so.
It’s funny that when english-speakers* question **OUR** culture, they inevitably say that we are racist and whatnot.
But if we talk about the englishs’ culture, we are “intolerant” or “bigoted”…
* This includes, of course, (ashkenazi) jews — which is a piece of work because they were far more discriminated against by the english than by the french.
I do not want to hijack the blog but WKH, there is so much that is wrong with the comments you posted. And it is a shame that you do not realize it. Am I understanding correctly, you blame the church and the English speakers for the predicament of the oppressed French speaking people?
So it’s payback time and that’s okay with you because you heard stories.
Your argument is that because your ancestors claim they couldn’t speak French at work, today my rights mean nothing? Or is that I do not have any rights, because as you say, “francos … deserve special recognition”?
I do not think language needs to be protected in the workplace. The people should be respected though. Language should be respected though. What I find deplorable – to borrow your word – is that we are told today – in 2010 – we cannot speak the language, write in the language or read the language of our preference in the workplace.
The kicker in your comments was your last sentence, “You can enjoy and promote other cultures without shitting on the francos, who deserve special recognition as well.”
So by being born into a French speaking family a certain privilege should be bestowed?
I could reluctantly agree to privilege for some if it did not mean the absence of rights for others. But you are demanding privilege and oppression all at once.
I knew him a little and like you I’m surprised that Tierney would go out on a limb like this: he’s a pretty cagey guy. I’m wondering if the Trotsky was such a big success he’s about to leave for LA, or something.
While I agree there are nuances of truth to all sides on this, the thing I find remarkable is that Tierney comes out saying this just after his film, which as it happens IS a minority film comes out… So obviously it is possible to make movies about minorities in Quebec, he is living proof himself. One might also notice that he, as an English Montrealer, made a movie about English Montreal, just like French Quebecers make movies about French Quebec. So the issue becomes, where are the minority movie makers, to come up with projects about their own communities and experiences? One has to remember that massive immigration in Quebec is relatively recent, and I would expect that as second and third generation immigrants become an increasing part of Quebec, they will want to tell their stories on screen, just as the older all-white and French generation of Quebec movie maker has done and keeps on doing. And I certainly look forward to that. As to the English minority, which of course has always been here, maybe they find it easier to go to English Canada when they want to express themselves through film, I don’t know. But Mr Tierney is living proof that a minority movie maker in Quebec who has a project can get it done…
I got a knee jerk reaction myself when I read this. But now that I think about it I admit it’s true, but it’s also mostly justified.
Many , many Quebecois movies have historical settings , often from the 80s and before. Immigration became what it is now fairly recently. It wasn’t that long ago that anglos (Italiens, Jews, Irish, basically white people that speak English) were the only other major group in Quebec.
When I left Joliette for Montreal (8 years ago) , there were about a dozen known visible minorities (out of 30 000 people). So unless they were a major character…
-Le Rocket, C.R.A.Z.Y., Nouvelle-France, La Grande Seduction, you name it. If it’s set in the past the only other ethnic group would be natives and anglos which are so mixed with Quebecois that you can barely tell them apart anyway.
La polytechnique had how many visible minorities during that period?
Still that doesn’t excuse more recent cinemas, in modern times, that are set in Montreal.
Tierney also largely forgets about television, which has a representative group of minorities in most shows I’ve seen. But few francophones watch TV in french, I can hardly blame an anglophone for doing the same.
Hmm. No. “Trotsky” was not about the english in Montréal; the same story could very well have hapenned to a french family, and be set in a Rosemont school with UPAM professors.
Or in New-York, Tokyo, Amsterdam or Brisbane.
I always appreciate reading your blog when you cover those kind of news. It is rare for Anglo journalists (most of them working for The Gazette) to (properly) cover French cultural events happening in Montreal. I believe it is normal, since a major part of The Gazette’s readership is composed by English speakers…
One particularly part of your text interested me a lot: when you talk about bilingual media we have or that we could have in Montreal. For me, this is a no-sense. We live in something truly unique in North America, even unique in the Canadian context: a bilingual metropolitan city where most of people are fluently bilingual. I study journalism at Concordia, which is my first English school experience. Before, I only did French schools, such as completing by DEC degree at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal.
Since I’m at ConU, I’ve realized how much poor my knowledge of English Canada was… and of what I known of American culture. I’ve contributed several times to The Link, trying to cover French issues as much as I can… without no idea if some readers were paying attention to my stories…
Would it be economically profitable in Montreal to have one single bilingual newspaper? That’s my contribution to the actual debate over the print media crisis. Just imagine one Gazette, daily published in both languages, covering news, arts, sports and everything, but dedicated to every Montrealers…
It would be an amazing experience for journalists, but also another unique aspect of Montreal and of this province! And for one time, les deux solitudes seraient réunies.
I find it interesting that at the Genie Awards, te Best Film Category has had a Quebec Film winning about 6 or 7 times the past 11 years including C.R.A.Z.Y. and Polytechnique this year. It’s very surreal. Surely there are certain films like Dede A Travers les Brumes this year that categorically are not submitted to the Genies because of the political views of the director, thinking that the movie will not be marketable but certain films are transcedant in the erst of Canada even if they are not well promoted. Also, was there not a little uproar at last year’s Jutra Awards when Susan Sarandon made the cut for Best Actress for Emotional Arithmetic, an English movie filmed in Montreal?
BTW, isn’t Jacob’s father Kevin’s next movie about Anglophones from around Canada coming to Quebec to learn how to speak French to get better jobs, and it stars French Quebec celebrities as well as Canadian such as Fred Ewanuick from Corner Gas.
Here’s a little treat. Look at about the 5:00 minute mark and who do you see?