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Robert Lepage cancels Kanata because of cultural appropriation claims
Kanata, the controversial Robert Lepage play that’s been criticized by numerous members of Quebec's Indigenous communities, has been cancelled.
The cancellation was announced on Thursday morning by Ex Machina, Lepage’s production company, in a Facebook post.
“The infinitely complex and often aggressive controversy surrounding the show has in the meantime reached the North American co-producers that were interested in it, and certain ones have now announced their withdrawal,” they said. “Without their financial support, we are unable to finish creating Kanata with Théâtre du Soleil. Therefore, we are putting an end to the project.”
The play, which Lepage said depicted the early days of Canadian history and examined the relationship between the country’s colonizers and Indigenous population, was panned by Indigenous advocates for not including Indigenous artists or performers and for being developed without input from the country’s Indigenous communities.
Critics also said that what was being depicted in the photos of dress rehearsals was inaccurate.
some local Indigenous community leaders met with Lepage last week to discuss the issues and said they were disappointed with the way discussions unfolded.
They felt differently on Thursday after hearing about the cancellation.
“If he's cancelling the play because of the controversy, that he has funders that are concerned about the contact -that's a big win for us. That is the best success ever. It shows that if we mobilize on any particular issue and this could be the outcome, it shows there's hope for other things in the future,” said Nakuset, director of the Montreal Native Women’s Shelter.
It’s the second Lepage show to be criticized for cultural appropriation this summer. The Montreal International Jazz Festival cancelled SLAV, which featured songs associated with black slavery in the United States, sung by a primarily white cast, after just a few performances.
That show will be performed in several other Quebec cities in early 2019.
Parti Quebecois leader Jean-Francois Lisee waded into the controversy Thursday afternoon, tweeting that the play's cancellation represents a step back for artistic freedom and blamed "censors."
Ce recul de la liberté artistique est intolérable. Premier ministre, j’estimerais qu’il est de la responsabilité de l’État, gardien des libertés, de soutenir cette œuvre. 1/2 #kanata #slav #polqc @Ex_M https://t.co/2a61B8tveP— Jean-François Lisée (@JFLisee) July 26, 2018
2/2 Les pressions des censeurs et la faiblesse morale des coproducteurs ne doivent pas avoir le dernier mot en matière de liberté artistique. Le débat, oui. Le soutien à davantage de diversité dans les arts, absolument. Le recul des libertés, jamais ! @Ex_M #polqc #slav #kanata pic.twitter.com/WJJjwbCV2M— Jean-François Lisée (@JFLisee) July 26, 2018
Lisee also said that Premier Philippe Couillard should offer government support for the ‘Kanata’ project.
Late Thursday afternoon, Quebec's Culture Minister Marie Montpetit tweeted a response saying they've always supported Robert Lepage's work but he'd made his decision.
Montpetit added it was unfortunate, that no one wins in this situation, and that the dialogue must continue.
Further discussions are set to continue between Lepage and the Indigenous community.
Lepage and his team said in the statement, they'd still like to "try to understand calmly and together, what cultural appropriation, and the right to artistic expression are fundamentally" and he would still like to meet again with the Indigenous community and his critics.
Nakuset agreed, saying there's always room for conversation and she too still wants to work to foster greater understanding of the community's variety of views and voices.