"Quebec society is extremely turned in on itself" - Macleans.ca

“Quebec society is extremely turned in on itself”


I suspect Jacob Tierney will regret giving this interview to La Presse, if only because he’ll have to spend six months answering questions about it. Here are the juiciy bits:

“Quebec society is extremely turned in on itself. Our art and our culture shows only white francophones. Anglophones and immigrants are ignored. They have no place in the québécois dream. It’s shameful.”

“I was born in Quebec, I speak French, but for the people, that doesn’t change anything: I will always be perceived as the Outsider. Some people tell me I can always move to Toronto, but I don’t want to go to Toronto! Montreal is home!”

I’ve always found the mostly anglo-Canadian/Quebecker compulsion to criticize francophone Quebec culture as insular to be peculiar. (The politics, mind you, are a whole other matter.) That a mostly francophone society has mostly francophone cultural pillars is hardly “shameful”; expected is probably more like it.

Moreover, I’m not entirely convinced Tierney is even correct in saying the chief tendency is to navel-gaze. In fact, the most successful examples of francophone Québécois cinema had pretty universal themes. I’m thinking here of Denys Arcand’s Le déclin de l’empire américain (sex and gender roles, among others) and Les invasions barbares (growing old and disillusioned), C.R.A.Z.Y. (growing up gay), La grande séduction (the challenges of small-town life), etc.

But the strangest implication in Tierney’s argument is that the general aesthetic of Quebec culture is insufficiently multiculturalist. It’s as if a society that has never embraced Canadian multicultural dogma should have artistic traditions that do. If anything, what Tierney’s appeal amounts to is a call for more parochialism—that Quebec cinema should be even more beholden to identity politics, not less. Tierney’s problem with Quebec filmmakers, in other words, is that they don’t make sufficiently Canadian films.


“Quebec society is extremely turned in on itself”

  1. Interesting take on his comments.
    I feel similar to Mr. Tierny in the way that originally I'm a French Canadian (born in Belgium) but when I lived in Quebec I was always the outsider and, quite frankly, it's rather annoying to be looked down upon simply because I've lived abroad for a while.
    It's indisputable that Quebec society is obssessed with itself and cares very little for the rest of the world. But it's easy to understand why: the strongest minority in America while necessarily be preoccupied with it's survival.

  2. I'm just glad Tierney escaped to a cosmopolitan place like Hollywood that isn't obsessed with celebrating the local white majority-language community.

    • Ha! Touché.

  3. Yeah same here. I'm a francophone raised outside the Quebec borders. I tried to find my place in Montreal's franco community, but I always ended up feeling like an outsider.

    And contrarily to Tierney's assertion, I find that Quebecers are very open to multiculturalism when it comes to mainstream culture, more so than in the ROC. This statetement is probably debatable, I'm speaking from anecdotal evidence that is dubious at best, but if I were asked to describe it I would stick to this definition and attempt to defend it.

  4. Oh of course they are. But then Alberta isn't known for it's worldly sophistication either.

  5. Jacob Tierney can be quite a douche but I will say it was refreshing to see both anglo and franco Montrealers depicted in 'The Trotsky". I think he's off-base in saying that immigrants are not depicted in Quebec pop culture but anglos are indeed largely invisible.

    They occupy a curious position though as a minority in Quebec but part of the majority in Canada.

  6. Perhaps anglos are largely invisible in Quebec culture, but it's not like they had this tremendously rich offering in terms of movies or TV-shows. If they want to assume a larger presence, it's up to them to do so. Although it's hard to reach the majority by speaking the language of a minority.

    • Hmmm, two points in response:

      1. You argue "If they want to assume a larger presence, it's up to them to do so.". Would this apply to any other minority though? Would you tell blacks that it's just up to them to assume a larger presence? Or women? It's been the policy of the many Canadian and Quebec cultural institutions for years now to increase the representation of visible minorities precisely because we recognize that it's NOT IN THEIR POWER to "just assume a larger presence". Why are Quebec anglos an exception?

      That Loco Locass song that played during the Montreal Canadiens playoff run stood out for me because it contained a few lines explicitly mentioning anglos (although in this case anglo Habs players). It was unusual because it's so rare for Québécois artists to even acknowledge the anglo component in Quebec society

      2. Most anglos that remain in Quebec are at least functionally bilingual.

      • Well, you may be up to something with your first point. Still, I don't know if you're right saying that it's not in their power to assume a larger presence. After all, in music, you can witness their strength, just look at the McGarrigle family or at Leonard Cohen. Why aren't more of them interested in portraying their reality in arts? Lack of connection? Too small talent pool? Culture? I don't know, and I don't pretend to have any satisfying answers.

        As to your second point, I didn't mean that anglos in Montreal don't speak French, although I admit it wasn't so clear. What I mean is that English-language movies (not music, which is another matter entirely) can't have the same impact as French-language ones. If you want to reach out to all Quebecers, not just bilingual people from Montreal, use French in your works. There's just no way around it.

  7. What is funny is that he mentions 1981 as an example of an homogeneous white-french society but it's a film about the childhood of Ricardo Trogi, a son of an Italian immigrant.

  8. In Trois Rivieres, you have a hard time getting into some bars if you don't speak French, or are obviously not of the "pure wool" stock. My friends and I were denied entry with, "No square heads"…..

    I wonder how that would go over with the Liberal crowd if we were to replace the words "square head" with Jews….blacks, muslims…etc.

    • Now that's something you could fight them over and make them regret being biggots if you really wanted to. Although I'm not sure the moral victory would offset the costs and time put into it.

  9. It has been my experience that a fair number of Québecers are still at the "curiosity" stage when dealing with non-pure laine individuals, especially for those of colour.

    They are confounded when you can speak French properly. They believe that you must be just like everybody else who has your cultural or racial background. If you are from elsewhere in Canada then you must be just like every other anglo. In many ways they are at a stage people in Toronto were at 20-30 years ago when it comes to dealing with people from outside the majority.

    Once again those are gross generalisations and based on personal anecotdotes rather than a broad-based sociological study.

    I would say in the cultural realm, the only Québecers of colour who are widely embraced are those who either "faire le gougous" like Normand Braithwaite, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normand_Brathwaite or who fulfill Québecers' idea about themselvers as to how open they are like Gregory Charles, http://www.gregorycharles.com/.

    • A thoughtful comment!

  10. I am from New Brunswick, Canada's only truly bilingual privince. 40% of the population is French Canadian. Signs and most services are bilingual. I recently met a French Canadian originally from Quebec who is now living in Kelona, BC because they like the winters there. When I told him that I was from New Brunswick he said, "all of Canada should be like New Brunswick" referring to the bilingualism. That 'all' that he was referring to included Quebec. I remember when prior to Bill 101 that Quebec seemed to be more bilingual and I prefer that especially for the residents because many Quebecers find not being able to speak English to be a disadvantage especially when they travel outside Quebec. In a democracy like Canada Quebecers should have the freedom of speach and language rights that the rest of Canadians have.

  11. Reverse question : does Manitoba cinema for example reflect the presence of 6% francophones ? No.
    And for the record, here's what Tierney said 2 months ago. He was defending the use of the French language in Quebec cinema :

    "Il ne s'agit pas de réclamer une interdiction sur tous les films qui se déroulent dans le passé – il est important que l'histoire soit représentée – mais de dire qu'il faudrait peut-être aussi, à côté, penser à créer des oeuvres qui reflètent la réalité d'aujourd'hui. En français bien sûr.»

  12. Quebec media is very white. There are no black characters on any QC television shows despite having the largest Haitian population in N. America. There are no aboriginal, Asian, south Asian, anglophone, middle eastern characters on QC media. you will never see a non-white character except in derogatory sketch comedy, or ethnic comedians ridiculing their own cultural heritage. I speak four languages fluently, have worked in television and film non stop since I graduated from university, and have been hired in the province of my birth ONCE in 8 years. I love my industry, and the city of my birth, but much, I could do without. NOTE: Jacob Tierney is also the son of a very successful film producer. Bon Cop Bad Cop. He isnt a first generation immigrant trying to get financing for a film. Arts in this country is still part of the privileged, the wealthy elite.

    • You don't watch much QC television to say such a thing. Remember Jasmine? It was a boring serie, but the main character was a Black policewoman. In the morning, look at Des kiwis et des hommes and see what color is Boukar Diouf. Want to see an arabic character? Watch Virginie or any show with Rachid Badouri. How about les Bougons or Casino to see Asian characters? Pure Laine? to see all of them. I could go on and on…

    • Michaëlle Jean was the anchorwoman on the Radio-Canada news, I guess you don't watch that much French language TV after all.