Canadian theatres are staging plays for black audience members only, with one ensuring white people are lectured by staff if they attempt to attend the shows.
Both the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Theatre Passe Muraille (Theatre Beyond Walls) in Toronto, are set to hold “Black Out” events, an idea started in Broadway in 2019, where the theatres would provide a “dedicated” space to black audiences “to Black Audiences to come and experience performances with their community.”
While the NAC described their Black Out performance of “Is God Is” as being “dedicated to Black audiences,” the Theatre Passe Muraille went further, and said that their performances of “Okay you can stop now” and “X and Da Spirit,” written about the Black Lives Matter protests, were “exclusively” for black people.
“When you enter the theatre ‘house,’ the audience will be comprised only of Black audience members,” Theatre Passe Muraille confirmed. While anyone who self-identified as “Black” would be “welcome” to attend, they would do their best to exclude any white people from attending, despite racial discrimination being illegal under Canadian laws.
“If someone self-identifies as a non-Black person and demands to enter the room, a member of our staff will be present to chat with this person,” they said. “We try our best to have this labour land on a non-Black staff member and we will have non-Black front-of-house, leadership, or technical and production team members present in the lobby to help de-escalate such situations.”
Professor Jordan Peterson was one of many to criticise the black only audience policy. “How black do you have to be?” Peterson wrote on Twitter. “I believe my wife tested 3% of African descent using 23 And Me. Is that enough? Perhaps she could wave her hand through the door…”
Following the backlash, Annabelle Cloutier, the executive director for strategy and communications for the NAC, claimed that the Ottawa theatre does not have any “racially segregated shows” available, moving away from any claims of exclusivity.
“Of the nine performances of Is God Is, we have dedicated one performance to those who self-identify as Black and their guests,” she said. “No one will be turned away at the door; there will be no checkpoints for Black Out Night ticket holders and no questions will be asked about anyone’s identity or race.”
Quillette journalist Jonathan Kay had noted that when attempting to buy tickets on Ticketmaster for the NAC performance, customers were warned that the performance was “exclusively for Black audiences,” like the Theatre Passe Muraille shows.
But it was later confirmed to Canadian outlet “True North” that the description on Ticketmaster had been changed to remove the exclusivity notice, and once again declaring that it was open to anyone “Black-identifying.”
Shifter, a Canadian magazine that celebrates black culture, stood by the racially discriminatory events.
“Any attempt at carving out a dedicated space for racialised communities is often labelled by some as ‘racist’ and counterproductive to this Utopian kumbaya idea of all people getting along (despite the fact many individuals still don’t like Black people; even among people of colour),” the magazine wrote.
This news and commentary by Jack Hadfield originally appeared on Valiant News.