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“We live together, that’s why it’s important that we be seen together.”
On April 4, TUX Creative House studio launched the first edition of Remous with a screening of Rokhaya Diallo’s documentary film, Où sont les Noirs ? Since we’ve realized how much we've grown out of this event, we’d like to share five lessons from the event with you.
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That evening, as I scanned the room, I wondered how many people were in attendance. Seventy, maybe – all of us gathered in TUX Creative House at Plaza St-Hubert. I could see people of varying ages and genders. Above all, for the first time in my fifteen-year career in the advertising industry, half of which was spent in Paris and the other half here in Montréal, I saw that the audience actually reflected the ethnic and cultural make-up of the city in which I live.
That is to say that until that moment, I’d almost always been one of the very few non-white participants at such professional events.
To people who claim to be colour-blind, this may seem a minor point; however, the rest of us know just how powerful a symbol it is, especially in our industry. In Québec, 90% of the advertising industry is made up of white people*, while on the Island of Montréal, 39% of residents identified themselves as members of a visible minority in the last census in 2021.
It is precisely because the barriers to entry into our industry are still too high that we created Remous.
This series of events is designed to overcome isolation, encourage encounters, and provoke conversations that challenge mindsets and enable us to move forward.
At TUX, we hope that events such as Remous, which are unusual now, will become the rule in our industry and elsewhere – that is why we’re going “open source” and sharing five best practices from the first edition of Remous. Here, then, is a humble summary of what we took away from the screening of Rokhaya Diallo’s film and from discussions involving our Montréal panellists Alliah Fafin, Ayana O’Shun, Eric Idriss-Kanago, and Stéphanie Germain.
1. Make room for others and their stories
For this first edition of Remous, we chose to address a recurring theme, both in-house and with the brands we work with: how marginalized communities are represented and portrayed on screen.
Since the people who are affected by this reality are in the best position to talk about it, we chose a documentary film, entitled Où sont les Noirs ?, which was directed by Rokhaya Diallo, a Black French intellectual, journalist, columnist, and filmmaker. Through a series of interviews with film professionals, most of them Black, Rokhaya Diallo invites us to explore how these communities are still too often portrayed in roles that are essentially caricatures (prostitutes, Jezebels, sexually unbridled women, cleaning staff, drug dealers), when they are not simply absent from our screens.
Above all, the public understands that, in France, a little more than 150 years after the abolition of slavery and 46 years after Djibouti became the last French colony in Africa to snatch back its independence, the weight of colonial, imperialist, and slave-owning history still weighs heavily on Black actors.
Nowadays, even if Omar Sy is no longer the only actor in the spotlight – Ahmed Sylla and Fadily Camara, among others, have recently joined him – the list of well-known Black actors remains fairly short.
As for film directors, French talent from Black communities is finally receiving the recognition and media coverage that were previously exceedingly rare. Since 2019, we’ve seen Ladj Ly with Les Misérables and Mati Diop with Atlantique, both of which won awards at Cannes in the same year. Also, Maïmouna Doucouré, who took Mignonnes on the road, winning awards at Sundance, Berlin, and at the Césars ceremony, before its release on Netflix. We’ve also seen Alice Diop’s Saint Omer win an award in Venice and go on to represent France at the Oscars and Ramata Toulaye-Sy walk up the steps at Cannes last May to present Banel et Adama. While more and more of these artists are in the spotlight, they are still presented in the same way, as people on an exceptional journey.
“Good to know,” I can almost hear you say. “But this is Québec, so why are we devoting a whole evening to a documentary film on how Black people are depicted in France?”
2. Turn your gaze on others so as to bring your own situation into sharper relief
Despite major advances and the greater ease of expression in Montréal than in other parts of the world, talking about racial issues in 2023 remains a thorny issue. How should you broach the subject, from what angle, using what terms, and with whom? Given the risk of perpetuating stereotypes or offending dominant groups, you may quickly feel that you’re treading on eggshells.
To foster critical thinking, we decided to use a method often employed in film, that is, talk about what’s “out there” to reflect about what’s going on “in here.”
That’s why TUX, a local creative company, invited local Black artists to respond to a documentary on French cinema. For more than an hour, directors Alliah Fafin (Amani, 2021) and Ayana O’Shun (Le Mythe de la femme noire, 2023), producer Eric Idriss-Kanago, founder of Yzanakio and co-founder of Black on Black Films, and Coalition Média** answered questions from host and cultural mediator Stéphanie Germain.
The upshot? Unfortunately, in many respects, the situation in France and Québec is similar:
– On both sides of the Atlantic, Black people are trapped in the same stereotypes. This is what Le Mythe de la femme noire, a feature-length documentary film released last January and directed by Ayana O’Shun, reveals. It shows how, in Québec, roles offered to Black actresses still revolve around such stock characters as the hypersexualized Black woman, the nanny (inevitably fat and maternal), and the angry Black woman***.
– Most Black people who work in the film industry, either here or in France, say that they have been discouraged, at least once in their lives, from working in the industry, on the grounds that neither their profile nor their stories would be of interest to the general public.
Alliah Fafin shared her own experience with us, stating that it took her many years of hard work to produce her short film, Amani, as her applications for subsidies were turned down time and time again.
What was the reason given by provincial funding agencies? That Amani would never find an audience in Québec. Yet in 2021 and 2022, Alliah Fafin’s film won five awards, including four in Canada: in Montréal, in Alberta, and in Ontario, where it won Best Canadian Short at the Kingston Festival. “Perseverance is the key,” confirms Ayana O’Shun.
– Everywhere, Black people are under-represented on screen (we did a live test at the event: it was hard to name more than three Black actors from France or Québec from memory).
– Given their rare presence on screen, Black artists experience immense pressure as they feel they’re not entitled to mistakes.
“Give us the right to make mistakes, to make poor films. So we can start again and make more mistakes,” requests Eric Idriss-Kanago.
Alliah Fafin concurs: “In Québec, we need to be given the opportunity to experiment for the first time to show what we can do. We need to have faith in our diverse communities.”
– Because it’s still necessary to point out, as did our guests, that you don’t have to be Black to identify with a Black character or a story written by a Black person.
A film that “achieves grace,” as Eric Idriss-Kanago puts it, “shows the most fundamental shared trait between an Indigenous person in Québec, a Black person in Central Africa, and a white person in Montréal: their humanity, regardless of whether they raise their children differently, eat different foods or speak a different language.”
– In the final analysis, the lack of representation is detrimental to all the communities that grow and evolve without seeing themselves reflected in popular culture or seeing themselves portrayed only as a caricature. “We live together, that’s why it’s important that we be seen together,” says Rokhaya Diallo. Eric Idriss-Kanago goes even further: “Recognizing yourself in the images projected on screen is almost as necessary as food or water.”
To erase a portion of the population from our screens is to remove it from our collective imagination, to confine it to the margins of our mental representations. It’s a denial of its right to exist and to take part in the life of the community.
3. Burst our industry bubble, for real
Naturally, the teams at TUX invited their current and past clients to the first edition of Remous. But to give chance a helping hand and ensure that the audience reflected the city’s diverse make-up, they also invited members from Montreal’s Black communities who don’t work in the field of advertising. As a result, and to our delight, members of community-based organizations, CEGEP students, opinion leaders, artists, intellectuals, and people in charge of diversity, equity, and inclusion in public institutions joined us for the event.
Our goal for future editions is to create even more opportunities for people to meet and exchange ideas.
4. Recognize the value of activism
We believe that raising awareness in the world of advertising is a full-time job. This task makes us aware of the great power we hold in our hands – the power to put an end to stereotypes and make progress on equity, thereby achieving greater justice.
That’s why we decided to compensate our panellists: development in our industry should not rely solely on people’s generosity, and our recognition must not be merely symbolic.
Likewise, J.E.D.I. committee members devised and prepared the Remous event during their paid working hours.
5. Measure results
In keeping with the saying, “the cobbler’s children go barefoot”, we forgot to count the number of people who attended the event. So it’s a failure as far as quantitative results are concerned.
On the qualitative side, however, we’re delighted to say that less than a month later, the impact of the event is already apparent. The first edition of Remous took representation issues out of the narrow confines of the J.E.D.I. committee and brought them to the attention of other key talents at TUX. Since April 4, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing our list of allies grow, with some people even saying that the evening triggered a real change in them:
“The evening was an eye-opener for me, and I think I have a better understanding of how communities feel about being under-represented.”
“The film and the discussion made a real impact on me. I hope that from now on we’ll all be super-motivated to diversify the stories that the media carries and steer clear of stereotypes.”
“Understanding how these established professionals deal with issues that are common to our industry will help me in my own work”
“I realized the extent to which Black people’s experiences echo the reality of other marginalized and under-represented communities that I am more familiar with.”
Join us on August 10 for the second instalment of Remous, on the topic of Pride. See you there!
Until then, (re)immerse yourself in the evening of April 4 by listening to the Dim Sound podcast here: