Montreal International Jazz Festival cancelled performances of SLĀV, a show featuring a majority white cast singing African-American slave songs, the festival announced on 4 July 2018 following public backlash.
Described as a “theatrical odyssey based on slave songs”, SLĀV was criticised for cultural appropriation, reported The New York Times. Only two of the show’s seven cast members are black. Its star, Betty Bonifassi, and director, Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soleil fame, are both white. In one scene, singers dress as cotton-picking slaves.
Protesters gathered outside the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde for the show’s premiere on 26 June, with one person holding a sign that read “Is there nothing y’all won’t steal? White culture is theft.”, as seen in a video published by Montreal Gazette.
Musician Moses Sumney was due to play at the festival but pulled out when the festival continued to publicly defend the show “even after adamant protests”.
“I knew that I could not present my music at this same festival in good conscience,” he said on Twitter.
In a statement announcing the show’s cancellation, the festival stated that “inclusion and reconciliation between communities are essential”.
“The Festival team has been shaken and strongly affected by all comments received. We would like to apologize to those who were hurt. It was not our intention at all”.
The statement also indicated that the decision to cancel the show’s performance was made in collaboration with Bonifassi.
SLĀV was the most popular ticketed show at the 39th Montreal International Jazz Festival, with more than 8,000 tickets sold for 16 performances, Montreal Gazette reported.