Another film stemmed from white guilt disguised under the title of Love

 Review of Cinemania Festival’s opening film Chien Blanc

Acclaimed author and filmmaker Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette brought forth her new film Chien Blanc as the opening film of the 28th edition of the Cinemania Festival. 

Her 2015 novel La Femme qui fuit received a lot attention owing to its  second-person narration of Lavalette’s grandmother’s life. 

Because of the acclaim she received from her novel and the various films she has made in the past such as Nelly, from the novel Putain by author Nelly Arcan, it was fair to have high expectations for this release. 

Cinemania hopes to bring francophone cinema to an international spotlight and help these films achieve recognition. For this year’s edition of the festival, organizers hoped to engage audiences with relevant socio-political issues. The festival’s country of honour this year is Luxembourg, which will bring the country’s French cinema and culture to the foreground. 

Beyond film screenings, the festival also organizes roundtables, conferences, concerts and an exhibit at the PHI Centre. 

Chien Blanc was a result of Barbeau-Lavalette questioning her identity as a white person. For many, the murder of George Floyd in 2020 was a reality check. It brought more awareness to the struggles of people of colour — and for Barbeau-Lavalette, this awareness translated into a historical film. 

“This is not a documentary,” states Lavalette in the Q&A session. The film, however, is composed in parallel to the narrative of archival footage of Black struggles from the Civil Rights movement of 1954-68 to the Black Lives Matter protests from last year. 

It is controversial that, though a Canadian artist herself, Barbeau-Lavalette chose to depict racism in the U.S.but ignored similar racist trends in her own province of Quebec, whose prime minister openly stated that “systemic racism does not exist.” 

Even though the film only has a runtime of ninety minutes, it seems to drag on much longer. This was in part due to the awkward editing. The audience barely had the opportunity to draw breath after dramatic scenes before the narration would quickly resume. 

It is noticeable that Barbeau-Lavalette does not come from a filmmaking background. The metaphors used in the film were too on-the-nose, and provided little credibility. 

For instance, the first scene shows a boy playing with a toy dog, foreshadowing the upcoming story with a dog as the central character. In another instance, Romain Gary (author of the original novel Chien Blanc) writes the last words of his book, which seems to symbolize the universal finality of racism. He writes with pen on paper in the film as a metaphor of the final words of his novel. 

Barbeau-Lavalette touches upon the themes of white tears, but does not give them much depth. In a scene at the beginning of the film, a taxi driver is bringing Romain Gary to his home when we hear the news of Martin Luther King’s murder on the radio. Romain Gary overpays the driver — a direct symbol of white tears that  Barbeau-Lavalette herself noted in the Q&A  as “overcompensating his guilt by paying.” 

Strong metaphors can enhance a storyline, but in this case they felt forced — as if they were trying to entirely manipulate the audience’s experience rather than giving them a chance to think for themselves. 

The film does not flow very well as there are abrupt switches between images that make it, at times, an uncomfortable experience to watch. 

Though her initial claim of making the film about what it means to be a white ally is interesting, the angle she has taken in Chien Blanc only serves to further divide. A better angle to take would’ve been centring more Black voices, for instance. Characters like Ballard who Gary gets out of prison, seemed central to the story during the initial scenes were only shown briefly. 

Overall, the film was an interesting visual experience. The Cinema Imperial seating 800 people was entirely full. The audience was a diverse group that included school-going children and teenagers who would applaud at the end of every scene and laugh whenever an intimate scene would pop up on the screen. 

Though Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette is known for her prose, and the film is an accurate adaptation of Romain Gary’s novel Chien Blanc, I’m not sure that filmmaking is the best avenue for her talents. 

Concordia Student Union News

Black History Month – but make it year-long

Concordia Student Union (CSU) puts a spotlight on Black excellence


For Black History Month, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) has been using their Instagram platform to feature Black activists, writers, artists and scholars on spotlight posts — a solid effort at highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of Black people throughout history.

As part of their latest Black Lives Matter campaign, this initiative aims to uplift and amplify Black voices during Black History Month. The campaign’s broader goal focuses on echoing the demands made by the Coalition to Defund the Police and the calls from the Concordia Black Studies collective.

“We decided to designate this project to Black History Month by showcasing a different person each day to learn about their role and how they’ve impacted society as a whole,” said Victoria Pesce, the CSU’s external affairs and mobilization coordinator.

These posts include figures such as Oscar Peterson, Mary Ann Shadd, Rev. Addie Aylestock, and more.

A blurry line between allyship and performativity

“My relationship with Black History Month has always been shaky,” said Sundus Noor, a second year Concordia student. “I notice that every February there are new initiatives and events that pop up in an effort to uplift Black communities, but I sometimes feel like those things can be done all year around.”

“In some cases, it ends up coming out as trying to profit off of the month or taking advantage by tokenizing people.”

Noor explained how it can be hard to know if the intentions behind someone’s actions are truthful. But, she believes the CSU’s initiative to uplift a community is well-intended.

“It makes you wonder whether someone genuinely wants to celebrate Black people, or if they want to do it because not doing so might make them look bad.”

“I believe the CSU’s initiative comes from a genuine place of wanting to do their duty and shine the spotlight on Black people who have contributed to our societies, but there is always room for improvement,” she said.

Noor expressed her concerns about the dangers of exclusively reserving these discussions and initiatives for February and forgetting them the rest of the year.

“We shouldn’t be dumping everything in one month and forgetting everything about it after.”

“What happens after Black History Month? People’s voices seem to be erased because the month is over, and I think that’s when it becomes a form of tokenization.”

Karim Fall, a Journalism student, echoed this point.

“I’m always on the fence when the month of February comes around because some people might partake simply because they see others do it and they want to avoid being the outlier.”

“In any case, it remains important that conversations are taking place during that month, and that is progressive in a sense because it gives people the chance to learn,” added Fall.

“I’m never going to be mad at a discussion happening because we should always encourage dialogue, but it also bothers me when bigger institutions ignore it as soon as we hit March 1.”

Broader goals: uplifting beyond social media

For many students, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging to connect with the Concordia community and take part in these initiatives during Black History Month.

“I feel so far away from everything that is going on at the university at this moment,” said Florence Ojo, a student at Concordia.

Given that huge parts of our lives have been shifted to the online scene, the importance of social media engagement in uplifting Black voices has become crucial — even more so in the first ever virtual Black History Month.

Beyond virtual events, Pesce explained that the CSU has offered different workshops on topics like activism, allyship and police defunding to keep up the focus on what the Black communities need.

“We have to acknowledge how whitewashed our education is,” she said, “We don’t learn about the Black communities, or the Indigenous communities while growing up and that’s why it’s important to take every moment of the month to realize it.”

On the academic level, Pesce discussed the CSU’s efforts to hold the administration accountable and create different initiatives for the Black communities within Concordia, notably the Black Perspective Office (BPO).

“Similar to the sexual violence workshop, we’re working towards creating a mandatory workshop during which we would learn about the difference between, for instance, racism, oppression, discrimination, and more,” explained Pesce.

“It’s a part of our education that is lacking in our system.”

Fall echoes Pesce’s point, “The more I learn about Black history, the more I realize that it’s really world history.”

Similarly, Ojo believes that Black History Month is a great way to learn and amplify the voices of Black individuals, but we should not limit ourselves to a simple month of the year.

“We’re all here to learn and we should do that every day, not just during February.”


Screenshot of the CSU instagram page


Be an Indigenous accomplice, not an ally

Understanding the best practices of Indigenous solidarity, the impacts it can have, and the role the media plays.

The Concordia Centre for Gender Advocacy hosted a workshop on Nov. 6, focusing on better ways to be an Indigenous ally, which involve breaking the rules of Canada’s colonial system and respecting Indigenous leadership, as Indigenous people are the ones most affected by colonization.

The workshop was called Indigenous Solidarity Best Practices, and it was presented by Iako’tsi:rareh Amanda Lickers. She is Seneca, an Indigenous nation that is historically part of the Iroquois League.

“The most radical allyship would be giving back the land,” said Lickers. “Move from being sympathetic to doing something. Be useful, interrupt the colonial narrative and push back against colonial social norms.”

Lickers believes one of the ways to support Indigenous people is to donate a yearly amount of money – small or large – to Indigenous organizations and communities. She frames it as a kind of rent, as non-Indigenous people are able to live and create families in Canada because of Indigenous displacement.

She used the phrase, ‘accomplices, not allies,’ which is the name of an online zine that focuses on removing the ally complex, which refers to people that wish to ‘save’ marginalized people, or use them to advance their own goals. The zine calls for people to be accomplices instead of allies, to actively disobey colonial structures in support of marginalized groups.

Lickers says the best way for people to understand how colonization affects day-to-day life is education. People need to be active in learning about how colonization came to be and to use sources that are corroborated by Indigenous groups.

“Media can shape public opinion, it can shape popular education,” said Lickers, explaining the important role traditional media plays in influencing public belief; that media prioritizes certain voices over others, and it selects what parts to tell. There are few stories of thriving Indigenous people.

“If it bleeds it leads,” said Lickers, explaining that violence attracts readers, and mainstream media picks stories that fall into their editorial narrative. “There are certain types of reporting that glamorize poverty and violence, but it doesn’t discuss the everyday racism that Indigenous people face.”

Marisela Amador is a non-Indigenous alumnus from the Concordia journalism program. Now Amador works at the Eastern Door, a newspaper that reports on the Kahnawake Indigenous community, on the south shore of Montreal.

Amador agrees with Lickers’ view that mainstream media exploits Indigenous issues.

“White media comes here and it sensationalizes everything, and it shows a perspective that is not accurate,” said Amador. “Once the media have gotten what they need, that’s it, they leave.”

Amador explained that the Kahnawake community does not feel like ‘white’ media is an ally and that it is a common thing for people in Kahnawake to feel alienated.

“It’s not that people here don’t want to talk,” said Amador. “It’s just that nothing good comes from it.”

Amador feels like the strict deadlines and word counts mean important background information on Indigenous issues is left out in mainstream media, leading people to be misinformed.

She wishes that there would be more time and room to fit information when she’s reporting, but because of tight deadlines, Amador just has to do her best.

Amador believes the best way to have more Indigenous content in mainstream media is to have more Indigenous reporters.

Samantha Stevens is a non-Indigenous Concordia student doing her masters on the ‘white saviour trope’ in newspaper coverage on Indigenous issues. She noticed in her research that mainstream media has improved from blatant racism, but this has now been replaced with a more subtle form of racism.

These forms of racism include how media usually portrays Indigenous people as poor, and Stevens noticed that when Indigenous people are jobless, it is common for the media to refer to them as being on welfare.

“Quotes are a huge problem. The same person is quoted all the time,” said Stevens, explaining that this enforces stereotypes that all Indigenous people have the same issues, and leaves out other voices in the community.

She believes most journalists don’t even notice what they are doing, as it is so ingrained in Canadian culture. According to Stevens, the only way to see more accurate reporting is for non-Indigenous writers to make space for Indigenous people to tell their own reality and stories.

Lickers believes that non-Indigenous reporters need to support Indigenous voices in the media, to facilitate and collaborate in a way that gives visibility to Indigenous reporters.

“Honestly, I think we are going to have to change the style of news if we want more Indigenous representation,” Lickers said.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Hollywood’s girl next door or swift business woman?

I was never really a Taylor Swift fan. Sure, her songs get stuck in my head from playing on repeat on the radio, but Taylor Swift always represented something unattainable; a tall, blonde, blue-eyed, skinny, perfect girl next door loved by everyone who met her. Her attempt to be darker in her past albums seemed really comical to me.

In my opinion, her recent music video, You Need To Calm Down, tackles more than just the fight for equality. It seems to be shouting to everyone, “Hey! If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it!”

The music video and VMA performance featured cameos by several prominent members of the LGBTQ+ community, such as Ellen DeGeneres, RuPaul Charles, and several drag queens.

According to USA TODAY, after having won Video of The Year at this year’s VMAs, there has been a lot of backlash claiming the pop star is “using Pride as a fashion statement or marketing ploy.” But many in the LGBTQ+ community have her back, and her allyship seems to really benefit the community regardless.

In an interview with Insider, Tan France,  Queer Eye’s fashion guru, stated that he believes the community shouldn’t automatically assume that Swift is acting on self-serving motives. France added that even though the pop star hasn’t been a vocal advocate until recently, she has taken great strides in her allyship, concluding her music video by urging viewers to sign her petition in support of the Equality Act. The petition has since obtained over half a million signatures and counting.

The act has yet to pass in the U.S. Senate, and Swift hopes the petition will urge the Senate to proceed. If approved, the Equality Act would protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination, ensuring that all American citizens are treated equally.

With a net worth of over $360 million, Billboard stated that the pop star has made some very charitable donations to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD),  the Joyful Heart Foundation for survivors of sexual assault, and various Go Fund Me campaigns, among other things.

Her charitable actions don’t necessarily speak louder than her luxuries – what with her two private jets and $84 million real estate portfolio, according to a recent article in the Business Insider. We can’t forget that Swift is not just Hollywood’s girl next door, but a boss business woman doing her best to manage her extreme successes.

Swift released her new album, Lover on Aug. 23. Featuring radio hit “ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down,” among other poppy tunes such as “The Man” (where Swift imagines her life as a man) and “Soon You’ll Get Better.”  In the latter, the star sings “I hate to make this all about me, but who am I supposed to talk to? What am I supposed to do?” — her music is, after all, about her. She is the centre of her work, and she just happened to jump on the LGBTQ+ train. We can’t shade her for that.

In my opinion, although she could be doing more for other communities worldwide (ie, donating to Indigenous communities in Brazil affected by the fires in the Amazon), there is a lot of pressure put on Swift, and other celebrities, to be vocal allies. This makes them prime bait for public backlash – while these are figures that can use their positions for political advantage, they are not politicians, but privileged voting citizens. They simply have louder microphones than the rest of us.


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.

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