Canadian whiteness, the theme of the Montreal International Black Film Festival

INSIDE THE 2022 MONTREAL INTERNATIONAL BLACK FILM FESTIVAL, CATHERINE REYNOLDS/THE CONCORDIAN

Racism in the Great White North just isn’t worth denouncing for those who chose the opening movie of the 2022 Festival

The opening of the Montreal International Black Film Festival with the screening of Lovely Jackson on Sept. 20 was nothing less than a pure expression of devious Canadian whiteness. 

Yes, there is such a thing.

A lot of Canadian identity is predicated on not being American. So when it comes to racism, the white Canadian rhetoric is that it’s simply “not as bad as it is in the States.” 

The result is a local form of whiteness that pushes Euro-Canadians to decry racial violence in the United States but harshly deny its existence in their own country, so as to preserve the myth of white innocence, of non-American superiority. I don’t know any Black person in Canada who hasn’t been humiliated by these seemingly contradictory reactions that actually go hand in hand. 

Yes, we are familiar with Canadian whiteness.

I expected more from the Montreal Black Film Festival because it established multiple events and opportunities around the theme of Being Black in Canada. I thus decided to give Lovely Jackson a chance despite the fact that it’s produced by a white male (first red flag), and was suspiciously acclaimed by a white Québécois executive of the Festival (who declared in his speech that it was “just so beautiful”) — second red flag.

The movie tells the story of Rickey Jones, an African American man who spent 39 years on death row in Cleveland, Ohio for the murder of a white man that he did not commit. Two white police officers wrongfully convicted him at age 18 by forcing a 12-year-old Black boy — the case’s sole eyewitness — to write a false statement “proving” his guilt.

He was released in 2014 at age 57, years after the Ohio Innocence Project started investigating his case.

As my heart juggled between rage, sadness and admiration for Jackson, who boldly shared his incredible journey towards healing and happiness, I grew more and more disgusted at Waldeck, the story’s antagonist, who carefully washed away the blood off the white criminal’s hands.

Not only was the Festival’s choice of movie disrespectfully strategic in the Canadian context — another example of overshadowing local tyranny by focusing on racism in the US— it was also full of white saviourism.

It is very clear: all white characters are angels. More blame is put on the poor child who bore the traumatic burden of the officers’ illegal manipulation and coercion for decades, than on the policemen responsible for Jackson’s misery. 

The movie includes detailed follow-ups on the life and testimonies of the former, but the latter are completely erased from the story, despite Jackson implying the full extent of their guilt in one brief clip. 

This point-of-view remains unexplored. However, the white prosecutor who was the director of the Ohio Innocence Project gets heroic attention — never mind the fact that he admitted to believing all prisoners were evil until the project’s creator went on sabbatical leave, forcing him into the job.

The movie does not name “racism” or the prison-industrial complex, let alone the roots of the colonial capitalist system that rips families apart and instills planned suffering into Black people’s existence.

I went from being frustrated to holding back tears at the cruelty of this world, exhausted by Waldeck’s distortion of reality that was further empowered by the Canadian whiteness of the Festival.

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