Whatever the wider debates, here in Quebec, “Slav” has polarized the cultural establishment.
Lucas Charlie Rose, 26, a French Montreal-based transgender rapper who organized the protest, accused the production of turning slave music into “soulless rock songs.” Among his litany of complaints was that Ms. Bonifassi, a white woman, played Harriet Tubman, a Moses among black women, while “a black woman with an identity crisis” had the history of the underground railroad “whitesplained” to her. He admitted that he hadn’t seen the show.
“I didn’t go to the show, as it is bad for my health, but I know a lot of people who have seen it,” he said. “My problem is that it is a story about black pain without black people involved in the creation of the show.”
In fact, the hip-hop artist and historian Aly Ndiaye, better known by his stage name, Webster, did consult on the production. But he lamented that his pleas that black actors should play the slaves had been ignored. In an editorial published by the CBC, the national broadcaster, he argued that the show had whitewashed race from the production. Justifying the casting choices under the cloak of freedom of expression, he added, was too facile. “We are told we must go beyond a ‘racial’ interpretation of this work, but these songs are born of racism,” he wrote.
Nicolas Ouellet, 30, a Quebecer with Senegalese origins, who hosts a cultural radio show on Radio Canada, the national broadcaster, said that “Slav” had aroused passions, in part because there were so few black voices and faces represented in Quebec popular culture.
“As a kid growing up here I thought I had no chance of working in the cultural arena as I heard so few black voices on TV, radio or at the theater,” he said. “I don’t understand why the production didn’t make more of an effort to find a more multicultural cast. It seems lazy.”