A soundtrack for troubled times

An ode to the personal narrative podcast

Before the world came to a screeching halt, my favourite part of my weekday routine was the morning commute. It was a carefully choreographed dance: put my headphones on, walk to the metro, chip away at the daily New York Times crossword on the blue line, transfer from metro to bus, and so on, all the while listening to a carefully curated queue of podcasts.

The first course of my audio diet was always a daily news podcast, the New York Times’The Daily” being a longtime favourite, followed by some NPR show that taught me something new about economics or racial justice or psychology. If I found myself waiting at the bus stop for longer than usual, I’d slip in some media criticism or global politics, but most of the time I impatiently skipped straight to dessert: personal narrative audio stories.

On more than one embarrassing occasion, these podcasts have (literally) stopped me in my tracks, or have made me break into a goofy grin at the most inopportune times. Once, while listening to a podcast about the #MeToo movement on the metro, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window. Unknowingly pointed in the direction of a nice old lady, my face was creased into a somber glare as abuse after abuse was recounted by the victims themselves.

Writer James Tierney encapsulated the essence of my brief, yet frequent departures from earth: “Podcasts represent an atomization of experience, muffling the sounds of the immediate environment and removing the individual from a synchronous community of listeners.”

I first turned to narrative podcasts to get out of my own head in those quiet periods of transit limbo. Those moments of deep listening, of letting someone else do the talking for once, provided a convenient escape hatch from the confines of my cramped inner world, a way to alleviate the claustrophobia of mundane thoughts and profound worries alike. Despite the initial intention to distract and entertain, podcast listening has never felt like time wasted. On any given day I can be brought up to date on Canadian politics, hear a stranger’s deepest, darkest secret, and learn about the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act all before I land back on my doorstep at the end of the day.

But merely calling a podcast informative, entertaining, or distracting, though all these qualities may be applicable, misses the point of what podcasting brings to journalism in general and listeners in particular: the podcast, in the words of radio producer Jay Allison, is a medium through which the human voice can “sneak in, bypass the brain, and touch the heart.”

The tradition of oral storytelling has endured precisely for this reason; stories whispered across time and space can instantly wrench you from your surroundings and transport you to a different place entirely. It’s the strong sensory, emotional connection of audio storytelling that pulls on familiar heartstrings, the way catching a whiff of a certain perfume you can’t name brings you right back to your grandma’s house. A 2015 study by Lene Bech Sillesen, Chris Ip, and David Uberti on the empathetic connections between audiences and personal narrative storytelling showed that such “narratives spark feelings of empathy … we identify with others’ pain and in ways our brains intertwine our own and others experiences.” This is to say, in the stories of other people we are really just searching for ourselves.

In stark contrast to the thousand car pile up of social media feeds and crowded homepages of news websites, the empathetic connection is strengthened by the direct line of communication between the storyteller and listener. As Jonah Weiner observes in his essay, “Towards a critical theory of podcasting,” “In an antidotal and almost paradoxical way, podcasts are the internet free of pixels.” Somehow these anonymous, fleeting connections are startlingly intimate.

Personal subjective journalism is by no means new to journalism, and the practice of organizing a story around a human voice is perhaps the oldest trick in the book. “Journalists should embrace reporting stories of everyday life and people’s subjective experience of living,” wrote Walt Harrington, over two decades ago. “As people try to make sense of their lives these stories open windows on our universal human experience.” That much hasn’t changed, but the novel power of the podcast comes from the specific time and technological era we’re living through; perpetually plugged in and now sequestered in our houses, we long for the effortless human connections that once bound us to our communities.

Enter: personal narrative podcasts. A year ago, imagining our current reality would have seemed far-fetched by TV drama plot standards, yet just dystopian enough to write a best-selling YA novel about it. But here we all are, physically distanced yet deeply connected by the blessed, cursed internet and the fact we’re each living our own iteration of the same story. The news doesn’t offer much of a respite from our daily struggles, whatever they may be, but in narrative podcasts I know I will find connection and comfort in a supremely uncomfortable time. There is no cure for this modern loneliness, but podcasts are a pretty good remedy to manage the symptoms.

Sometimes it is difficult to remember, in a world devastated by natural disaster and disease and corruption and ignorance, that the small stories are meaningful. It’s easy to forget that the pain and triumph of others actually chips away at our big, seemingly impenetrable questions, because, as Walt Harrington wrote, “As people try to make sense of their own lives, these stories open up windows on our universal human struggle.”

I no longer commute to work or school, but I do maintain a steady intake of podcasts. Next up: A 99% Invisible episode about the design philosophy of the NoName brand, or perhaps I’ll listen to This American Life’s episode on isolation (again). I’ve vicariously lived thousands of lives through the stories of other people, and I think I know a little bit more about myself and the world because of it. After all, isn’t that the point of journalism anyways?


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab


FILM REVIEW: Shit one carries

Caregiving roles are reversed in Shuchi Kothari’s film Shit One Carries

There is metaphorical shit we all carry – guilt, anxiety, regret, longing (insert your emotional baggage here) – and then there is actual shit.

As Avinash, the protagonist in Shuchi Kothari’s fictional directorial debut Shit One Carries, finds out in the most unpleasant circumstances, that shit needs to be dealt with too.

Avinash didn’t ask for this. He has a comfortable, if not demanding job as a Silicon Valley engineer, a whole life built oceans away from where he finds himself now: at his elderly father’s bedside in India, taking care of the man who once was his own caregiver.

Shit One Carries premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival before making its way around the international festival circuit to the 2019 South Asian Film Festival of Montreal. For Kothari, an Indian-Kiwi filmmaker and educator based in New Zealand, the film is deeply personal. “I wrote the script during a recent visit to India when my mother had a fall and was confined to bed,” said Kothari in a statement. “During this visit, I caught up with Director of Photography Mrinal Desai. To my rather innocuous question, ‘how’s your morning going?’ he replied, ‘Spent most of it trying to figure out who’s going to wipe my father’s ass.’ This statement gave birth to the story.”

Taking on a caregiver role can often be a thankless job. This isn’t a nurse-patient relationship, this is family. And these are not unfamiliar scenes; Avi’s father is disgruntled, impatient, maintaining his stubbornness in lieu of agency. Avi is distracted, he punctuates each strained interaction with a business call, a smokeless cigarette break. He’s there, but the distance between the two men is palpable.

“The struggle to ‘do the right thing’ manifests itself peculiarly in the Indian parent-child relationship where cultural norms and social pressures expect that all children, when grown-up, will return the gift of selfless caregiving,” said Kothari. This film, which screened as part of a selection of films from the diaspora, directly confronts the cultural and generational disconnection that can open up over place and time. In 14 short minutes, a father’s long-held expectations collide with his son’s reality.

Kothari revels in the moments where the discomfort rises to the surface and the avoidance is clear; uncomfortable pauses are hastily filled with small talk. The recognition of the other’s vulnerability is magnified under flickering fluorescent lights, and just as quickly dismissed as attendants and visitors shuffle in and out of the house. The question, ‘How are you?’ doesn’t warrant an honest response.

And then, well, shit happens. The attendant isn’t there, his father soils himself, and Avi is left to face something he never imagined having to do. He enters his father’s room cautiously, at once disgusted by the situation and overwhelmed by what it means to fully take on the responsibility of caring for someone you love. There is no more distance. Just a father and son, and a container of baby wipes.

Kothari’s film speaks to something bigger than a strained father-son relationship; at a time when baby boomers are approaching and settling into retirement, an uncomfortable new dynamic is emerging. Younger generations are grappling with the unspoken expectations of taking on the caregiving role, and in navigating these new responsibilities, a question is posed: What does how we treat our elders say about our societal values? When it comes to the unique context of diaspora communities, how do these North American values conflict with long-held cultural norms? What, as Kothari puts it, is the right thing to do?

Kothari doesn’t provide a simple answer, perhaps because there isn’t one. But in the final scene of the film, as Avi sits in solitude, wrestling with these questions himself, his father’s attendant offers a small piece of advice: “It takes a while.”


2019 South Asian Film Festival Preview

Six days, 24 films.

The 2019 South Asian Film Festival of Montréal (SAFF) is back for its 9th edition, kicking off the first of two consecutive weekends of films from South Asia and beyond, on Oct. 25 at Concordia University’s J.A. de Sève cinema.

The SAFF aims to bridge geographical and cultural distances through film, and the festival itself is a celebration of filmmakers from the Indian subcontinent, as well as diaspora filmmakers all over the world. This year’s film selection includes both fiction and documentary, ranging from shorts to feature-length films. The broad thematic range covers subjects of activism, aging, women’s rights and more.

“We try to include films from as many countries as possible and also in as many languages as possible,” said TK Raghunathan, President of Kabir Centre for Arts & Culture, the non-profit parent organization of SAFF. India, Afghanistan, Nepal, New Zealand and Pakistan are a few of the countries of origin appearing in the credits.

The popular Diaspora Panel will continue this year, with filmmakers, academics and activists from the diaspora present after selected films to discuss their work with the audience. Among this years panelists is Thomas Waugh, Professor Emeritus at Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, English Professor Jill Didur, and Yasmin Jiwani, Communication Studies professor and Research Chair in Intersectionality, Violence & Resistance at Concordia.

“In the past few years, audiences have been incredibly responsive and we are gaining quite a following in Quebec,” said Dipti Gupta, Director of the SAFF. “We have managed to bring films for all ages and from different parts of South Asia.”

Along with a selection of new films, the 9th annual festival is ushering in a few changes to the program as well; this year, each film will be subtitled in both English and French, and a new section called “Cinema Of Art” has been added to highlight films about art and artists. The festival will close with a screening of Neel Akasher Neechey, to celebrate the legacy of its director Mrinal Sen, who died last December.

Here’s a preview of what’s in store, and if you like what you see, check out the full list of films here.


WEEKEND 1 (Oct. 25-27)

Oct. 25 @ 6:30 p.m.

“In modern Mumbai of glass skyscrapers, the young widow Ratna works as a maid for Ashwin, a young man from a wealthy home, who apparently has everything it takes for a comfortable life. On the other hand, Ratna has one thing above all: the desire to work for a better life and to realize her dream of becoming a fashion designer. When Ashwin’s carefully arranged storybook wedding bursts, Ratna seems to be the only one who understands Ashwin’s deep melancholy. Ashwin falls in love with the housemaid and discovers in her a strong-willed and sensual woman who is ready to stand up for her dreams.”

The Soundman Mangesh Desai
Oct. 26 @ 6:30 p.m.

“Mangesh Desai, one of the top ten sound mixing engineers of the world according to the New York Times, was a colourful character whose understanding of the craft and technique was unparalleled. The film narrates the fascinating story of how he created sounds for iconic movies such as Sholay, Pakeeza, Kabhi Kabhi and many others. His dynamic range of work goes from the artistic extremes of Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal’s art films to Manmohan Desai’s commercial films. He could blend himself according to the needs of the subject, the film and the director, but no one could proceed without receiving his approval and availability.”

The Orphanage
Oct. 27 @ 12:00 p.m.

“The Orphanage is a beautifully photographed, quietly methodical portrait of 1989 Kabul and tells the story of young Quodrat rounded up by the cops and sent to a public orphanage. The movie was shot in Tadjikistan, mixing natural splendors with the starker institutional interiors. A grainy look makes the film feel like it was actually made in the 80s, adding to its historical authenticity. When, at the end, the orphanage risks tumbling along with the Soviet regime, you’re left with the harrowing feeling that for Quodrat and his friends, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

After Sabeen
Oct. 27 @ 6:30 p.m.

“Karachi, Pakistan. 24 April 2015. A car stops at a red-light. Inside are two women: Sabeen and her mother Mahenaz. Two men on a motorcycle stop and open fire. Sabeen dies on the spot; her mother gets wounded but survives. Moments before she was killed, Sabeen Mahmud, founder and director of the non-profit cultural institution Peace Niche, had hosted a discussion on the unexplained and ongoing disappearances of more than 20,000 activists and civilians in the country. Sabeen had been warned and advised to cancel the event but she went ahead insisting, “someone’s got to do this!” In the wake of the killing, the director tiptoes ”After Sabeen“ following her mother and friends to record not only their memories and grief but also their ongoing impetus to continue Sabeen’s work.”


WEEKEND 2 (Nov. 1-3)

Nov. 1 @ 6:30 p.m.

“A mini-bus is on a journey across the mountains to Kabul. Each person on the bus has a reason to make this journey. An old man is traveling to give a turkey to his grandchild, as his last wish before dying. However, the main road is blocked by insurgents. They decide to use an alternative road, which is not very secure, and there is still the possibility of getting caught by insurgents.”

Shit one Carries*
Nov. 2 @ 2:30 p.m.
India/New Zealand

“Avinash, a Silicon Valley engineer, returns to India to care for his bedridden father. Unlike the warmth his father shares with his professional caregivers, the father and son’s relationship is prickly. One afternoon when the usual attendant is unavailable, Avinash confronts awkward intimacies for which he was never prepared.”

Untying the Knot*
Nov. 2 @ 2:30 p.m.

“Untying the Knot tells the powerful story of Rumana Monzur, the blinded survivor of a domestic attack, and her courageous pursuit of a career in Canada. A powerful exploration of marriage in Bangladesh, the film also follows three women in Dhaka as they struggle with abuse and social pressure, laying bare the sacrifices made by women in the name of marital expectation.”

* Post-screening discussion led by this year’s Diaspora panelists.


The Sweet Requiem
Nov. 3 @ 12:00 p.m.

“When a young, exiled Tibetan woman unexpectedly sees a man from her past, long-suppressed memories of her traumatic escape across the Himalayas are reignited and she is propelled on an obsessive search for reconciliation and closure.”


Tickets for each film are available online, with the option to purchase an all-access festival pass for one or both weekends.




Feature still from the film Sir


PHOTO GALLERY: Tyler, the Creator at Place Bell

Tyler, the Creator at Place Bell on September 12, 2019

Photos by Mackenzie Lad (@macklad)

Student Life

Steps towards trans-affirmative health care

Concordia and McGill groups address the need for LGBTQ+ patient-physician allyship

Universal health care is a core value and a major source of pride amongst Canadians. Canada’s medical institutions are expected to meet the needs of a diverse population, yet the conversation around understanding and delivering quality care to meet trans-specific health needs is full of holes, if not entirely absent.

At the end of February, a panel of experts convened at McGill to discuss the ways public health systems perpetuate outdated practices and institutionalized discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Healthy McGill and the Nursing Peer Mentorship Program facilitated this safe space and invited audience members to bring the potentially offensive, random, or menial questions they might otherwise be afraid to ask about queer and trans health.

Simple things like asking a patient’s pronouns and prefacing potentially sensitive questions can make a huge and lasting difference, said Wong. The willingness of health care workers to learn and use LGBTQ+ friendly language signifies allyship, which is crucial in building the trust needed to give and receive quality care.

For many of the future health care providers in the room, it was their first opportunity to address health care in an LGBTQ+ context with experts working in the field. For others, it was a chance to gain a better understanding of the barriers trans people face when seeking health care in Montreal and beyond.

In A (Not So) Short Introduction to LGBTQIA2S+ Language, bioethicist and trans activist Florence Ashley defines transgender, often shortened to “trans” as, “a person whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth.” They point out, “being trans is independent of one’s choice to take hormones or undergo surgeries.” It is not a sexual orientation, nor is it premised on anatomical criteria.

“For health care providers there’s often the confusion between sex (assigned at birth) and gender,” said panelist Kimberly Wong, a youth sexual health educator at AIDS Community Care Montreal. “When we’re talking about sex, we’re really talking about anatomy. Gender is really a self-feeling kind of thing.”

Health care providers often conflate the two, resulting in the frustrating experience of being repeatedly misgendered, interrogated about one’s transition, or forced to bear the burden of educating the physician about transgender realities in general. A strained patient-physician relationship can inhibit one’s willingness to disclose pertinent medical information, or lead to broad assumptions premised on misinformation. “As soon as you start assuming, things go wrong really quickly. So many people end up with substandard care,” said Ashley.

Simple things like asking a patient’s pronouns and prefacing potentially sensitive questions can make a huge and lasting difference, said Wong. The willingness of health care workers to learn and use LGBTQ+ friendly language signifies allyship, which is crucial in building the trust needed to give and receive quality care.

The process of unlearning outdated terms and practices written into medical literature is still in its early stages, and in the meantime trans people have had to seek out resources and services elsewhere. “Trans people are often very good advocates for themselves because they have to be,” said Eve Finley, an equity facilitator at McGill. “That often translates into these very interesting networks of knowledge sharing that happen online and in person.”

The Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA), based out of Concordia, is one such network for trans people in Montreal. “A lot of people reach out to us or to other trans organizations and we provide them with such important information,” said D.T., trans advocate and public educator at the CGA. “The role of the center is to provide guidance and resources to people, whether Concordia students or not.”

“Change comes from people advocating for their rights to exist,” said  D.T. “That advocacy creates the pressure that cannot be repressed, and it leads to change in policy.”

In collaboration with Concordia Health Services, the CGA reached out to experts in trans health care and organized the opportunity for health services staff to receive training in trans-affirmative care. Concordia is the only university in Quebec to have done so, said D.T, “and they also use the latest approaches to transitioning, namely the informed consent model, where we accompany the person (throughout the process) and validate and affirm their decisions regarding their own body and self.”

Despite the progress made at Concordia, the public system in Montreal is still rife with hostile spaces and ill-informed doctors unable or unwilling to provide trans-competent care. “Outside Concordia, it’s hit or miss.” said D.T. “If you don’t know who the trans-friendly doctors are, you might end up in the wrong place with someone who will not help you affirm your gender and would rather discourage you from being who you are, which is sad in 2019.” To help avoid these pitfalls, the CGA provides an interactive map of health care providers who have denied services to patients on the basis of their trans identities.

“It’s really difficult to find non-judgemental health providers,” said Wong. “There are so many situations where people will not talk to their doctors or seek care because they fear judgement.” When they do, the reported medical problems are often minimized, dismissed, or blamed on unrelated factors. D.T. called it “trans broken arm syndrome,” which refers to the tendency of health care professionals to blame medical problems that someone might have on their trans status. “It still happens a lot, and many trans people choose not to go to the hospital,” said D.T.

The syndrome is not an isolated phenomena, and it’s one with significant repercussions. A 2012 study of trans people’s medical experiences in Ontario found that over half of respondents had negative experiences in clinical settings, and 21 per cent opted not to seek emergency care due to fear of being mistreated. The Twitter hashtag #transhealthfail is an online repository for first-person accounts of such encounters, offering a glimpse at incidents ranging from careless misgendering to outright denials of service from health care providers.

With so few capable physicians in the Montreal area, even those who do manage to seek them out end up waiting weeks or months for an appointment. “We know from research and from people’s personal experiences [that] that time between discovering, affirming to yourself that you are trans and starting transitioning is the time when people go through the most distress,” added D.T. “The longer they wait, the longer they experience dysphoria.”

While the gains made at Concordia signify positive change, D.T said there is still a long way to go to reach a trans-affirmative standard of care in Montreal and beyond. “We know very well that the trans health care field evolves very quickly. There are new needs, new approaches, and so the trainings [Concordia Health Services] did should be ongoing.”

A belief in universal health care is a belief in offering accessible care to meet the unique health needs of all Canadians, and trans-affirmative care is no exception. Of all the things that can be done to improve the quality of services for trans people on a local level, D.T. said it starts with education and advocacy. “Change comes from people advocating for their rights to exist. That advocacy creates the pressure that cannot be repressed, and it leads to change in policy.”

Feature graphic by Mackenzie Lad

Article updated on Jan. 31. 2024 – One of the sources of this article has come forth and requested to be anonymous.

Student Life

Naloxone 101: Frontlines of the opioid crisis

Saving lives and breaking down stigmas with public education

“I’m here today because there isn’t a very effective public education program,” said Richard Davy, a first-year social work student at McGill, after wrapping up the first in a series of naloxone training sessions he’s holding in November. To Davy’s delight, his first presentation on Nov. 7, which amassed an assorted crowd of students, community members and TV news crews, was a success. “People aren’t aware of this, even though we’ve known about naloxone for what seems like forever,” he added.

Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is the substance used to reverse an opioid overdose. Once administered, either nasally or through muscular injection, the naloxone blocks opioid receptors in the brain and temporarily alleviates some of the life-threatening effects of opioids. In cases of accidental overdose, it is often family, friends or bystanders who are tasked to recognize and treat an overdose, so the naloxone kits are designed to be easy-to-use for non-medical professionals.

Naloxone is also fairly easy to access; in 2017, the Quebec government began offering free naloxone kits in Quebec pharmacies to anyone 14 or older. The decision was made in reaction to the rising opioid-related hospitalization rates across Canada over the past decade. According to former Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, this was also part of a comprehensive strategy to address the public health emergency in the province that was declared after a spike in fentanyl overdoses in the summer of 2017.

Despite removing significant barriers to harm-reduction tools, the provincial government’s comprehensive strategy seems to be missing a key piece: public education. There remains a widespread lack of practical education that could equip community members with the skills and confidence required to capitalize on these resources. A 2017 opioid awareness survey by Statistics Canada found that only seven per cent of Canadians know how to both obtain and administer naloxone. Less than 30 per cent of respondents agreed that they would be able to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose.

Richard Davy, a first year social work student at McGill, held a series of naloxone training sessions throughout November. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Grassroots community organizations have long been doing the harm-reduction work the provincial government has only recently began to adopt in principle and practice. In 2013, Méta d’Âme, a Montreal-based “self-help organization ‘by and for’ people who depend on opioids,” created Prévenir et Réduire les Overdoses Former et Accéder à la Naloxone (PROFAN), a project focused on reducing opioid-related deaths through harm-reduction tactics, mainly the use of and access to naloxone.

PROFAN is among many longstanding independent initiatives offering informal overdose 101 education and, despite consistent action on a community level, there has yet to be a government-subsidized education program that offers the same hands-on experience.

“[Naloxone training] should be part of our repertoire of first aid. We should have an epipen in our first aid kit; we should have a naloxone kit in our first aid kit,” said Davy. “And again, that begins with education. That begins with the government getting behind it, with schools getting behind it, so we can start to raise awareness.”

Those aged 15 to 24 are within the demographic with the fastest growing rate of hospitalization for opioid poisoning according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Yet youth and young adults are not formally presented with this information in an educational setting, nor are they given any collective incentive to seek it out. “If youth are going to [use substances/drugs], and they are, we need to at least give them harm-reduction tools,” said Davy. Seeing both the need for and lack of practical education at his university, Davy stepped in.

The training session not only includes step-by-step instructions of how to detect signs of an opioid overdose and how to respond using naloxone, Davy deliberately contextualized the issue to present a more comprehensive, human view of drug use and addiction. “As social workers, we’re really encouraged to look at things through a holistic lens, including the more invisible stigmas and oppressions, and I think it makes it much easier to have that deep sense of compassion for people,” said Davy. “I see the pain. I have my own history of trauma, and I connect with that when I see it in other people.”

“The absence of public education encourages more stigma and discrimination, which discourages treatment and access to treatment,” said Yamin Weiss, a fellow McGill social work student invited by Davy to share his lived experience with drug addiction and recovery. “Public opinion is huge to people internalizing a problem of addiction. A lot of people don’t seek help because they’re so stigmatized.”

Each participant left Davy’s training session with a fully-stocked naloxone kit and a new set of practical skills. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Naloxone may be the antidote to opioid overdose, but, according to Weiss, it will take much more to solve the underlying structural issues. “Drug addiction and recovery is something for the public to be concerned about and to care about,” said Weiss. “And public acceptance can only happen through public awareness, which is why we have Naloxone training like today.”

In its federal opioid awareness campaign, the Canadian government has broadly recognized social and structural stigma as being a pervasive force impacting the quality of and access to care for people with problematic drug use. Under the bolded “How You Can Help” heading of the government website, it is suggested that we, as Canadians, “can learn about substance use disorder and educate ourselves about the medical condition.” An auspicious idea, yet rendered ineffective without corresponding educational opportunities provided on a broad scale.

Each participant left Davy’s training session with a fully-stocked naloxone kit, a new set of practical skills, and a more nuanced view of an issue that may have seemed insurmountable from the outset. “One of my intentions with this today was to take away a little bit of the fear. Take away some of that fear and now we’re progressing” said Davy.

Davy will hold a Naloxone 101 workshop at Concordia (CSU Offices H-711) on Thursday, Nov. 22. Admission is free, but due to overwhelming demand, participants are encouraged to register beforehand via Facebook to secure a spot.

Photos & video by Mackenzie Lad


The other green party

Bloc Pot candidate Hugô St-Onge talks anti-prohibition, stigma and inclusivity.

“I think prohibition is just a tool of persecution. Period. Then you just have all of the other bullshit to justify it,” said Hugô St-Onge.

St-Onge doesn’t use what he calls “the language of public relations” to state his position on cannabis legalization in Canada. In fact, he is loud and clear when he says that legalization, the way the Canadian government has chosen to proceed with it, is just a smokescreen to obscure a prohibitionist agenda.

St-Onge is a candidate for Bloc Pot, running in the Laurier-Dorion riding in the upcoming provincial election. The 44 year-old father of two might seem like an unlikely candidate. He was adamantly against drugs in his adolescence after seeing the darker side of substance use manifest in the form of alcoholism. He was 18 when he smoked his first joint, and it wasn’t until several years later, after a severe bike accident, that St-Onge became a frequent cannabis user during his recovery. “For those six to seven years, I was using weed for medical purposes and for anxiety but I didn’t know it,” he recalled. “I only started to make the connection in my 30s.”

Years later, St-Onge is an outspoken pro-cannabis advocate and a major voice leading the discussion about legalization in the province.

Bloc Pot isn’t asking for your votes so much as asking for your attention. Its status as a registered political party allows its candidates to engage with fellow politicians about the issues surrounding cannabis at a level where advocacy groups and non-profit organizations are routinely dismissed.

The key points of their platform include establishing a legalization policy through an open and inclusive legislative process, educating the public about cannabis, and breaking down stigma around its culture and users. Overhauling existing institutions is also a priority. To do so, they outline their intentions to expedite access to medical cannabis for all patients, advocate for cannabis users that have fallen victim to the judicial system prior to legalization, and to amend Quebec’s Election Act.

St-Onge is running for Bloc Pot in the Laurier-Dorion riding. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

“We have a really clear position: we are anti-prohibitionist. We want the end of prohibition, and this begins with removing cannabis from the Criminal Code. If you do that, then the federal government has no right, power, or reason to deal with cannabis,” said St-Onge. “It should be a provincial responsibility to deal with the questions of health, the market, and agriculture.”

Bill C-45, the federal legislation for cannabis legalization, will come into force on Oct. 17. However, St-Onge said this milestone is no reason to celebrate. Under the new act, there will be more rules and regulations restricting the production, distribution, consumption, and criminality of cannabis than ever before, with many of the logistics being determined on a provincial level.

Quebec has adopted its own framework, the Cannabis Regulation Act, which further restricts the guidelines laid out in C-45. This includes a blanket ban on home-growing and a government monopoly on the retail of cannabis with a newly-created subsidiary of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ): the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC).

“People say to us, ‘Why does Bloc Pot exist if there is now [cannabis] legalization?’” said St-Onge. “But I would ask them, ‘What is the meaning of legalization?’ For us, legalization is about more than what the government is presenting. Legalization is just a word, but what is our objective?”

St-Onge strongly disagrees with what he sees as an oligarchy determining the nature of the cannabis market. “We should have many producers, because this will ensure better accessibility, price, and supply. Licenses should be easy to to get, like a micro-brasserie licence. If [cannabis] isn’t more dangerous than beer, it shouldn’t be more restricted under the law,” said St-Onge. “For us, it is really important that more people should be involved in the market, not less, and from the bottom up.”

The Bloc Pot’s slogan is “Pousse Égal, Égalité Sociale, Égalité en Opportunité” (“Grow Equality, Social Equality, Equality in Opportunity.”) Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Inclusivity is embedded in the mission of Bloc Pot, starting with an effort to involve cannabis entrepreneurs and consumers in the creation of regulations that protect their freedoms. “[Cannabis users] have a right to be involved in the systems that concern us,” said St-Onge. “If you talk about legislating women’s rights and you have a table of just men, it makes no sense. So why, for the question of cannabis, do you only have people and professions who have supported prohibitionist policies at the table?”

The bottom-up approach is reflected in Bloc Pot’s slogan, “Grow Equality, Social Equality, Equality in Opportunity” (“Pousse Égal, Égalité Sociale, Égalité en Opportunité”). “Ending prohibition, for us, is integrating people into the market, because prohibition pushes people out and denies them their civil rights,” said St-Onge. “We think we have the right to be equal in social matters and opportunity,” meaning that everyone should have the chance to be involved in the budding market, contrary to the SDQC’s requirement that potential employees have no previous record of cannabis-related offences.

St-Onge said equality is a loaded term, and reaching a place where stigma is not a pervasive force in shaping the public’s opinion of cannabis requires government acknowledgement of the discriminatory practices, unnecessary prosecution, and wrongful criminalization of cannabis users. “[Cannabis users] are not bad people; we are being made into criminals by a system.” He added that the nuances of race and class must be a central part of the conversation if the public is to change the systems that oppress them.

To read Bloc Pot’s campaign solely as a radical call for a weed revolution would be missing the point; cannabis-related issues are important, especially given the timing of the provincial election, but they are only the tip of the political iceberg. “Weed, for me, is a reason to talk about political hypocrisy. Bloc Pot questions the power of the institution to persecute [cannabis users] like us for no good reason,” said St-Onge. “We are using pot as a symbol to talk about that. Weed is a plant; the politics are the problem.”

Photos by Mackenzie Lad.

Student Life

Carving out inclusivity at Concordia University

Florence Gagnon is creating the LGBTQ+ community she never had

Florence Gagnon has spent the last 10 years working to ‘spread the word’ and increase visibility for lesbians within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community. Her message? “We exist, and these are our experiences.”

Gagnon is the guest speaker at the second annual Queer Homecoming, an event that carves out a unique space for the queer community amidst Concordia’s orientation activities.

This year, she is set to share her success as an entrepreneur, founder and president of a non-profit LGBTQ+ organization and co-creator of a successful web series, to name a few accomplishments. Before she began her prolific career, Gagnon was a first-year student at Concordia, surrounded by hundreds of others at her own homecoming.

It was her love for art, coupled with the search for something outside of the small, suburban world that didn’t entirely accept her sexuality, that led Gagnon to move to the big city to study photography at Concordia. She said the experience changed her life before she even stepped foot in a classroom. “I felt like I was in the right place, that people were different and I was fitting in,” she recalled. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I guess it was the right context because I got to try so many things. I partied a lot, and I just met so many interesting people.”

One of those people was filmmaker Chloé Robichaud, who was studying in Concordia’s film production program at the time. “We talked a lot about our coming out, and the context we lived in in Quebec,” said Gagnon. “I come from the suburbs, so my coming out wasn’t the best experience ever, so at the time I felt like I was missing role models and information about what it is to be a lesbian.”

Their conversations turned into brainstorming sessions, and in 2012, they launched Lez Spread the Word (LSTW), an online platform that describes itself as seeking to “gather, inform, and shed more light on the lesbian community in Quebec and elsewhere. As well as offering informative and entertaining content, the site is a resource for women who do not have many references with regard to the lesbian community.”

Lez Spread The Word (LSTW) magazine. Photo courtesy of LSTW.

Only two years later, Robichaud and Gagnon crossed the second item off their project list: a web series by and for lesbians. Féminin/Féminin follows a group of lesbians as their lives intertwine and their stories unfold against the familiar backdrop of Montreal.

“We wanted to create something that we didn’t have at the time [of coming out], and thought we could help people, and also just for us to meet other girls,” said Gagnon. Following its premiere in 2014, Féminin/Féminin received much acclaim, winning the Best Fiction Web Series award at the Gémeaux Awards, and was renewed for a second season.

Keeping up with the momentum of her success, Gagnon spearheaded the launch of the LSTW magazine in 2016. LSTW is now distributed in 17 cities worldwide, with a third issue launching Oct. 23.

Still, with a reach greater than she ever imagined, Gagnon says visibility remains a significant obstacle. “Even now within the LGBTQ movement, it’s difficult to have a place. People think that within this movement [that] we’re all equal, but as women, it’s more difficult than it is for men,” she said, adding that even the use of the word ‘lesbian’ is contested within the community.

“People ask us why we use that word and not queer. At first it was really personal; I was identifying as a lesbian because I didn’t know anything else at the time. But at the same time, I’m happy to honour the past fights of women in the 80s. I think the word is loaded, but for us, we are pretty proud.”

Despite some pushback, Gagnon is optimistic for the future. “Things have changed over the past years. More visibility for the community and just being ‘different’ is celebrated more than it was before.”

Whether English or French speaking, there is visibility and power in numbers. Gagnon hopes people will come out to events like Queer Homecoming and get involved with projects in the community.

“I would love for the francophone and anglophone scene to mix more,” she said. “I think it’s really important—we need more communication. We still have so much to do.”

Feature photo by Saad Al-Hakkak.

Student Life

A new chapter for documentary films

Envisioning inclusion and documenting the imagined future of marginalized groups

At first glance, ‘Documentary Futurism’ might seem like an oxymoron—if the future has yet to happen, how can it be documented in the tradition of nonfiction storytelling? In their newest project, Cinema Politica seeks to answer that question the way they know best; through the creation and sharing of radical, independent documentaries.

“We came up with this idea of documentary futurism through being inspired by all of the Indigenous film programming we’ve been doing, in collaboration with Indigenous filmmakers and curators,” said Ezra Winton, co-founder and director of programming of the Cinema Politica film network.

“It’s bringing together documentary conventions and ideas of speculation and the imagination, even the fantastical.” Winton noted that, while nonfiction and speculation has been brought together in other forms, the combination has largely gone untouched in the documentary world.

Enhior:hén:ne [Tomorrow], directed by Roxann Whitebean. Enhior’hén:ne explores Mohawk children’s predictions about the state of mother earth 200 years into the future.
“The idea of being forward-looking with documentary has partially come out of 15 years of programming documentaries where the vast majority have focused on the past and the present, and the future part is always just the last 10 minutes,” said Winton. “We’re more interested in the whole thing being more forward-looking and that means not just envisioning inclusion, but ideas about social justice.”

After receiving the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) New Chapter grant, the project itself started to shift from an imagined future to a reality.

“We called [the CCA] right away to ask, is this just to celebrate, or can this be critical?” recalled Winton. “And they told us they’re calling it the New Chapter for a reason. That they’re more interested in critical perspectives and less about national chauvinism.”

Project coordinator James Goddard came on board not long after, bringing with him knowledge of afrofuturism and experience working in the interdisciplinary speculative arts.

Enhior:hén:ne [Tomorrow], directed by Roxann Whitebean.
Goddard points to the work of Indigenous futurism and afrofuturism, the latter having garnered much attention since the recent release of Black Panther, as the driving force behind the new genre. “[People] are interested in the ways in which marginal groups tell stories about the future,” he said.

“The importance of that, especially for Indigenous groups in Canada, is that there have been literal legislative maneuvers right up until the 90s that the government was doing to erase Indigenous people, to eradicate the possibility of a future. So when Indigenous people tell stories about their presence in the future, it’s an important form of resistance. And that’s true of almost every marginalized community that has experienced a history of erasure.”

Cinema Politica put out a call for film proposals in September 2017. They received over 70 applications, which were then passed on to a panel of jurors for deliberation.

“It was doubly experimental because we removed ourselves from the selection process too,” added Goddard. “Had we played more of a role in the actual selection process, more of our pre-existing ideas about what we wanted from the project would have bled into that.”

We might have been heroes / Nous aurions pu être des héros, directed by Andrés Salas-Parra. In a world with nothing left to mine, communication has become the main resource for humanity to exist. The challenge? To stay connected.

Among the jurors is Nalo Hopkinson, a prolific author of six novels, including Brown Girl in the Ring, which Goddard described as a “landmark text for speculative fiction and afrofuturism.” Joining her is Skawennati, a media artist whose work addresses the past and present from an Indigenous perspective, and award-winning filmmaker Danis Goulet, who produced, wrote and directed the film Wakening, a source of inspiration for the project.

The jury deliberated based on their collective interpretation of the project goals, finally arriving at the 15 films commissioned to inaugurate the new genre. “There’s a lot of variation in the themes they deal with. Obviously a lot of the films deal with environmental collapse, one film in particular focuses on exploring sexuality and gender variants, there’s a film that looks at corporate culture, and a number of the Indigenous films engage with the idea of what happens after the settlers leave,” said Goddard.

“We really encouraged the artists to interpret it as they wanted to, politically, aesthetically, everything. We just basically set the canvas, and even then the edges of the canvas can still unfurl,” said Winton. “My expectations were just that this was going to be interesting and hopefully, probably, amazing. And my expectations were met.”

In the tradition of Cinema Politica, Winton hopes the films will not only start conversations about the alternate realities they present, but serve as a catalyst for grassroots social movements unafraid to look towards an imagined, brighter future. “We’re always tackling present, day-to-day issues, and that’s important, but also imagining a post-capitalist, post-colonial, post-gender binary, post-whatever it is, it’s exciting and it can be politically transformative.”

Featured film still from Lost Alien, directed by Tobias c. van Veen.


Heartstreets are carving out a place in Montreal’s music scene

Local duo speaks about creating outside the confines of genre

A quick Google search of “Heartstreets” will pull up a description of the band as being R&B, soul, dance, and electronic all at once. In this instance, Google too is at a loss for words—or at least one that encapsulates a sound defiant of any one (or two or three) categories. But that might not be such a bad thing.

According to Gab Godon, one half of this Montreal-based duo, the beauty lies in the ambiguity. “Our music doesn’t always make sense, and I don’t think we have one song that will completely describe what we do. We are a lot of things,” Godon said. “What we are is two girls, singing, rapping and always creating together, and that becomes Heartstreets.”

On paper, Heartstreets is a collaboration between longtime friends Godon and Emma Beko, who bonded over a love of music and a persistent creativity. To become acquainted with their music on a sonic level, however, brings a whole new understanding of their partnership. Punchy, electronic beats and smooth rhythms offer a dynamic backdrop for Beko’s intricate, 90s hip hop-influenced raps and Godon’s soulful vocals, which draw from the R&B mastery of Lauryn Hill and the Fugees. Each contrasting element brings out the best in the others, blending seamlessly and eroding the narrow delineations imposed by preconceptions of their sound.

It should be no surprise that the musical partnership came together in a similar way. Like a plot-twisting scene from a movie, everything fell into place for the duo over a bottle of wine and an Adele song. “Hometown Glory,” Beko recalled, was the song Godon showed her that pivotal night. “She sang it and I thought it was so beautiful, and there was a blank space in the song and so I was like, OK I’ll show you some of the raps I’ve been writing.”

The rest was history and the duo hasn’t stopped creating together since. “It was so fun,” Beko said of their first time in the studio. “We did a second one and a third one and at one point we had four [tracks] I think? And the producers were like, let’s put it out. We hadn’t even really thought about creating a band or having a music group really; it was just out of pleasure. And it still is out of pleasure.” The only thing they needed was a name for the new project. “We had a bunch brainstorms and ideas, and a friend of ours had suggested ‘Street Hearts’ because we’re two, and the duality between grittiness and the soft side we have,” Beko recalled. “But there was a band called Street Hearts—a Rolling Stones cover band—so then we just did Heartstreets.”

Godon described their first release as the moment the pair realized making music could be more than just a hobby. “Once the EP was out, there was the release party at Théâtre Fairmount. It was a big venue, and the first show we were producing. I remember after that I was like, yeah this is happening. We’re in it and we’re not getting out of it; we want to go all the way.”

Carving out a unique place in Montreal’s music scene seemed to happen unintentionally for Godon and Beko, as they began to grow in popularity after the release of their first album, You and I, in 2016.

“I guess we were very innocent at first and didn’t really realize what was going on in our city. We were more focused on becoming artists and creating our identity and our vision,” Godon said, noting the large francophone presence in the local hip hop scene. “We do music in English, so it does separate us from a lot of the francophone artists who are more out there.”

“After eight years, we still feel kind of like outsiders, but not in a negative way I think, we just assume it. But it’s not stopping us from trying to reach our goals,” Godon said. “Making music is not easy. I’m discovering, more and more, it is a shark’s world. But that’s just the way it is. We’re still just trying to do the best we can.”

Fast forward several years, and the duo have performed at festivals like Osheaga, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Pop Montreal, Canadian Music Week, and, most recently, Mile Ex End Montreal. They’ve worked with local producer, Kaytranada, on the single “Blind,” and with Ryan Playground on the song “Lead Us,” one of Beko’s favourite collaborations.
“When we do it live […] she’ll be accompanying us without the beat, so it’s just her acoustic guitar and our voices,” Beko said. “It’s super cool to do. Since our music is mostly electronic, we do one formula of our show where it’s us and a sampler, but it’s fun to break it down sometimes and make it acoustic and intimate.”

For those who have yet to add Heartstreets to their playlists, Godon and Beko have some recommended starter tracks. “Listen to ‘Under My Skin’ and ‘Cruising With You,’ which are two of our most popular songs that have very different vibes,” Godon said.

“Completely different vibes, but you’ll feel a continuity in the music because, like Gab said, when we’re together there’s this vibe we give off,” Beko added.

Up next for the pair is a new song, this time a collaboration with francophone singer, Ariane Brunet, who goes by L’Isle. “It’s our first feature in French, our first bilingual song, and it’s awesome,” Beko said. The song is set to be released on Sept. 21. Beyond that, Godon said the duo are continually exploring their collaborative creativity and are excited to see where it takes them next. “We really do this because we like making music and we like sharing it with our fans and performing. It’s just for the pleasure of being able to share that.”

Photo by Mackenzie Lad


13th annual World Press Photo exhibition captures emotion and heart

World Press Photo is back in Montreal for its 13th annual exhibition

Nestled in the heart of Old Montreal is a small window into the whole world; one minute you’re gazing down a tree-lined promenade of the Old Port and the next you find yourself confronted with the mountains of garbage piling up on the shores of New York City, Japan and the Netherlands.

The World Press Photo exhibition has a unique way of making the viewer look far beyond their immediate surroundings and into the intimate lives of others. This year, the travelling exhibition returns to Montreal for its 13th edition, showcasing the best documentary photography from around the world under one roof.

Yi Wen Hsia, the exhibition’s manager and curator at World Press Photo, said the contest is one-of-a kind, both in the scope of its subject matter and its reach as an internationally touring exhibition.

“This year, we received over 73,000 images from more than 4,000 photographers from many different countries,” she said. The photos are viewed by an independent jury of photographers, editors and other experts before being narrowed down to first, second and third place winners in each of the eight categories. “We always strive to reflect what is happening in the industry; we saw that the environment and the issue of sustainability is one that has become more and more prominent,” said Hsia of the newly added Environment category.

The World Press Photo exhibition returns to Montreal, showcasing the best documentary photography from around the world.
Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Present among the winning photographs are recurrent themes pulled from international news headlines over the past year and captured through multiple lenses. Images of right-wing extremism in the United States—including the widely circulated image of the car that drove into a crowd of protestors killing one woman in Charlottesville, Va.,—hang adjacent to photos of riots in Venezuela and a series about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

“Another major topic that we saw was the issue of the Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh,” Hsia said. “We have a couple of winners this year dedicated to that topic.” She said this may prevent the touring exhibition from entering Burma due to the heightened political tensions and the government’s refusal to officially recognize the Rohingya as its citizens.

Regardless of the topic, each winning photo shares what is arguably the most important element of documentary photography: a powerful story. According to Hsia, the story behind the image and the context in which it is taken is a significant factor in the selection process.

“We want viewers to have a deeper understanding,” she said, after describing one photographer’s brush with death in the midst of a protest and another’s decade-long commitment to her subjects. This “deeper understanding” lies at the heart of World Press Photo’s mission to give time and space to important visual stories that will resonate with audiences in a world so oversaturated with disposable images.

Anna Boyiazis’ Finding Freedom in the Water, depicts a group of young girls learning how to swim for the first time.
Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Anna Boyiazis is one of this year’s winning photographers with a story that began long before capturing the images that won her second place in the People category. Her series, Finding Freedom in the Water, depicts a group of young girls clad head to toe in modest swimwear, learning how to swim for the first time off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania in East Africa.

“I had visited the island before, and I was told girls don’t swim. To which I replied, ‘This one does.’

I was being told what I was doing was inappropriate,” Boyiazis said. Time passed, but the experience resonated with her. “Once the idea was planted, it just blossomed as a perfect merging of my interest in humans rights, public health and women’s and girls’ issues.”

Upon learning that an organization called Panje Project was finally providing an aquatic education opportunity to local girls, Boyiazis jumped into action. She reached out to Panje Project asking to come document the organization’s work but received no response. After weeks of waiting, Boyiazis wasn’t ready to give up, so she boarded a plane to Tanzania.

“It was the best way to present my idea face-to-face. After that, it took two months for the idea to be presented to all of the teachers, parents, community leaders and elders to make sure they were comfortable with their girls being photographed,” she recalled. But it didn’t end there.

“After access was secured, I spent two weeks teaching the instructors English and an additional week in the water without my camera.”

Finally, after months of anticipation and preparation, Boyiazis stood waist-deep in brilliant aqua blue water watching young girls leave their conservative cultural restrictions ashore and experience the euphoria of floating for the first time.

Though the majority of her time was spent without a camera in hand, Boyiazis noted that the level of trust established over the course of the project allowed the subjects to be vulnerable with her. This sense of intimacy is reflected in her series of photographs.

“I think after a while of all that, the preconceived ideas that I had needed to be discarded, because I have to be true to the story that is right in front of me,” Boyiazis said. “If I’m looking for all of those other things, I might miss what’s actually going on.”

When asked if she approached her work with a journalist’s consideration for a story or an artist’s eye for aesthetics, Boyiazis didn’t miss a beat. “Emotion. Heart,” she responded.

The age-old saying “good things come to those who wait” is entirely appropriate here and for most of the award-winning photographs that line the walls of the World Press Photo exhibition.

There is something to be said for an extraordinary stroke of luck that creates a striking photograph. For Boyiazis, though, a real connection between the photographer and the story is more than a guiding principle of documentary photography; it is the philosophy of her practice.

“Do stories that matter to you, and don’t care if anyone might not be interested,” Boyiazis said. “I mean, it makes me want to cry; I didn’t think anyone would ever resonate with this. But here it is.”

The 13th annual World Press Photo exhibition runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 30 at 325 Rue de la Commune E. The exhibition is open seven days a week, and students get a discount on admission prices.

Student Life

Changing the media landscape one word at a time

A portrait of Concordia’s communications professor, activist and author, Yasmin Jiwani. “[As an activist] you have to use whatever tools are available to you, and whatever access you have.” Feature photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Yasmin Jiwani is an activist, professor and author who advocates for women and marginalized communities

For over 15 years, Yasmin Jiwani has taught some of the most interesting classes the communications department has to offer; Media and Gender, Communication Colonialism, and Alternative Media, to name a few, bringing her colourful past as an academic and activist to the classroom. In fact, “activist” is a title she proudly holds, alongside a running list of distinctions she has accumulated throughout her career. But you won’t find Jiwani breaking windows or storming police lines, instead she prefers to harness the power of words to make an impact.

Jiwani said her research and advocacy on the subjects of intersectionality, media, and social oppression were motivated by her own experiences as an immigrant from Uganda, a woman and a person of colour growing up during a period of heightened racial tension in Canada. “I first went to a high school in Ontario where me and my sisters were the only girls of colour, and the racism was palpable,” she said. “We wouldn’t be included in anything, we wouldn’t be talked to.”

It was only after a cross-country move to Vancouver that Jiwani found the sense of community she lacked. “I ended up in a school that was 80 per cent immigrant kids, 60 per cent of those were the refugee kids that I had grown up with back home [in Uganda],” she said. “My school actually saved me, because there was all these kids that were people of colour, or marginalized, and who were also trying to find their way and so that became a kind of bedrock for me to build my sense of self on.”

She then began to channel her own experiences into a deliberate effort for social change. Jiwani got involved with a group called the Committee for Racial Justice, where she examined the way the media naturalized the racialized, gender-based violence she saw unfolding around her. “This became my way of countering the kind of racism I was experiencing. It became my sanity in an insane world.”

This initial act of personal empowerment was the catalyst to a career spanning over three decades. “Activism is the most powerful source of immunity against having a self that is constantly being eroded,” said Jiwani. In the years that followed, Jiwani earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of British Columbia, a master’s degree in sociology and PhD in communications at Simon Fraser University. A writer by trade and an activist at heart, Jiwani uses her personal skills and resources to address the gender and race disparities in the media, especially within the medium and industry of film.

Jiwani’s early media criticism took shape during her time working at the In Visible Colours Film Festival, a Vancouver-based initiative championing women of colour in film. “Seeing the kinds of stories that women who were marginalized were telling, those things gave me a lot of hope,” she said. At the 1991 Women in View festival, a non-profit organization supporting female filmmakers, Jiwani delivered one of her first lectures about the stereotyping of artists of colour in the media industry. “That’s how I got involved in that whole area,” Jiwani recalled. “Then commenting on films as well, and writing about them.”

From there, she held a position at the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada working for their Women’s Program alongside the renowned Studio D, the now defunct all-women filmmaking unit. “There were so many exciting things happening at that time,” Jiwani recalled. “Part of the women’s program was taking the films that were produced [at NFB] to all the rural nooks and crannies of British Columbia. So it was going into these places and organizing public screenings at the community centre or the public library, bringing filmmakers in, doing the media work around that.”

This kind of community outreach bridged the gap between her academic work and the communities she was writing about. She continued with her research at the Feminist Research Education Development and Action (FREDA) Centre. “My work in that place was to bring those communities in, and to work with them [while] doing participatory action research on how gendered violence takes a particular form in racialized communities,” she explained. “The dominant society confines this kind of experience and culturalizes it, instead of looking at its gendered dimensions.” After seven years at FREDA, where she eventually became executive director, Jiwani made her way back east in 2001 to share her expertise in media and intersectionality as a professor in the communications department at Concordia.

In 2006, Jiwani published her first book, Discourses of Denial: Mediations of Race, Gender, and Violence. “That project was actually the culmination of all the other things I had been writing,” she said. “It’s dealing with the denial of racism, and gendered violence. So each chapter looks at how this racist, gendered violence is evacuated, erased, dismissed, trivialized, [covered by the media], in each instance leading people to think they’re crazy when in fact they’re not crazy.”

Though the book deals with recent case studies of racial discrimination in Canadian media, including the 1996 Vernon massacre, the murder of Reena Virk, and the representation of Muslim women in post-9/11 news coverage, she begins with a personal experience. “Me and a colleague were presenting our work on the Gazette’s representation of Muslim women post-9/11, and there was a white male academic in the audience who said, “What’s race got to do with it?” Jiwani recounts. “So the book starts like that.”

Today Jiwani is the Concordia Research Chair on Intersectionality, Violence, and Resistance, where she runs the Intersectionality Hub. Her most recent endeavour, the Virtual Graveyards and Cyber-Memorials Project, explores the online spaces dedicated to housing the digital remains of people who have passed away and how this information is preserved over time.

Jiwani has co-written two other books and authored dozens of published articles, lectures, book chapters and journal publications. Her work has evolved with the changing media landscape, continuing to challenge the perception and representation of race and gender in the media. But what remains constant throughout her career is a steadfast dedication to advocate for the women and marginalized communities who inspired her to start writing in the first place. “[As an activist] you have to use whatever tools are available to you, and whatever access you have,” Jiwani said. “I use writing.”

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