A group of Montreal artists has signed an open letter criticizing the use of blackface in theatre following the recent portrayal of P.K. Subban in a local production.

Last month, a white actor in the Théâtre du Rideau Vert’s annual year-end production had his face painted black to portray the famous Canadiens defenceman.

Quincy Armorer, artistic director at the Black Theatre Workshop, is among those who signed the letter to Théâtre du Rideau Vert.

“I think it’s not so much about pointing fingers at any particular organization or person who is doing it. I think we’re just calling for the importance of a discussion, and why the practice is outdated and really needs to stop,” Armorer told CBC Radio's Daybreak Montreal.

“People have a choice to use this practice that is rooted in racism, or they have a choice to not use it.”

The letter was prepared by the arts group Diversité Artistique Montréal and signed by both francophone and anglophone artists and theatre groups, including:

  • The Quebec Drama Federation.
  • Centaur Theatre.
  • The Segal Centre. 

Théâtre du Rideau Vert could not be reached by CBC for comment, but artistic director Denise Filiatrault told Montreal's La Presse newspaper that the portrayal of Subban “wasn’t blackface.”

Filiatrault said she was “shocked, outraged, and humiliated” by the reaction. The 83-year-old said she has been in the business for 60 years and was the first person to hire a black Quebecer on television.

"There will not be any more black characters. It's over," Filiatrault said.

"Either people do not have a sense of humour, or I am too old." 

She said didn't hire a black actor to play Subban for 12 seconds in her year-end show because her theatre couldn't afford it.

In response, Armorer told CBC, “The problem with that for me is, why if you hire a black actor, that’s the only thing he can do, is play P.K. Subban? Why can’t you use that black actor in any of the other skits in your two-hour show?”

Pat Donnelly, longtime theatre critic for the Gazette, said recently that Quebec theatre is notorious for casting white people in roles for people who are not Caucasian.

"This is nothing new in Quebec theatre. It’s been going on as long as I’ve been a theatre critic, which is 30 years," Donnelly said.

Sophie Durocher, a columnist with Le Journal de Montréal, disagreed with the criticism of Théâtre du Rideau Vert. 

She said the portrayal of Subban wasn't blackface.

"Blackface is derogatory against people of colour, and ridicule and humiliation is at the core of blackface," she told CBC's Radio Noon Montreal.

"How can that apply to a theatre that does a year-end review, and in that review, talks about P.K. Subban, who was awarded a contract of $8 million a year? How is that ridiculing black people or humiliating for black people? This, I really think, is at the core of the discussion."