Canadian director apologizes after saying “it does not matter” who tells black stories

Canadian director Barry Avrich apologized after criticism for his acceptance speech on the first night of the Canadian Screen Awards.

Avrich, who won Best Documentary for his film Oscar Peterson: Black + White on Monday, he said: “There are so many black stories in Canada that need to be told. It does not matter who tells them, we just need to tell them.”

The documentary chronicles the life of one of Canada’s most acclaimed jazz pianists, Oscar Peterson, who was Black.

The speech was criticized by several film organizations who said that Avric minimized the importance of narration by black filmmakers.

“I’m really sorry I was wrong, so my words are misinterpreted as anything other than support for black creators telling their stories,” Avrich told CBC News.

“Of course it matters who tells the stories. Intention, experience, attitude against oppression matter. I pledge to continue to be a staunch supporter of restoring the historical imbalance that continues to be a challenge for Black and other traditionally underrepresented ».

Avric said the two filmmakers who criticized his speech did not approach him before making their statements public, but called for opportunities for future cooperation.

The “privilege” of BIPOC storytelling

In statements released Thursday, several organizations disagreed with the wording of Avric’s speech, strongly disagreeing that the narrator of black Canadian stories does not matter.

The Black Screen Office, an organization that supports black Canadians working in the display industry, has expressed concern about Avrich’s speech.

“The BSO congratulates Barry Avrich on his victory at CSA, but we are deeply saddened that he would use it as a platform to express such self-satisfaction in his acceptance speech.” Jennifer Holneschairman of the agency’s board, said in a statement.

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The Black Screen Office was “deeply shaken” by Avrich’s comments, BSO President Jennifer Holness said in a statement. (Submitted by Jennifer Holness)

The Reelworld Film Festival, which screens films by racistly different and indigenous filmmakers, called Avritz’s comments “extremely frustrating.”

“For decades, white directors have enjoyed the privilege of telling the stories of blacks, Indigenous peoples, Asians and South Asians without any reproach,” the statement said. “Different creators have struggled – with a lot of effort and little success – to have fair access to funds and distribution to tell the stories of their communities.

“Only in recent years has the industry generally recognized this oversight and made efforts to give some control and support to these artists.”

The Canadian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which manages the Canadian Screen Awards, tweeted Avrich’s speech on Wednesday without naming him.

“This week has been, for the most part, a joyous celebration for a diverse set of nominees and winners… producing works that are imaginative, world-class and authentic,” the tweet said. “It is clear, however, that there is still a lot of work to be done to dismantle the system that has prevented different voices from being heard fairly. It matters.”

The Indigenous Screen Office also responded via Twitter, noting that it “stands in solidarity” with the statements issued by the Black Screen Office and the Reelworld Film Festival.

“It matters who tells our stories,” the tweet said. “It’s the foundation of our organizations.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians – from anti-black racism to success stories in the black community – see Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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