The story of Jackie Robinson and how he broke the color barrier as the first Black man to play in major league baseball, is not a new story. Neither is the praise Montreal received from hosting him for the three years he played for the Montreal Royals in 1946.
Echoes of the openness of the city and even of the country carried across North America painting a picture of a post-racial society.
However, through this cinematic letter, Dear Jackie, filmmaker Henri Pardo exposes the underbelly of Montreal’s Little Burgundy borough and the history of race relations and racism since the arrival of Robinson till present.
Pardo explains to the CONTACT that he too fell under the illusion that Montreal was a peaceful place for Blacks since Robinson sojourned here without incident. He carried the assumption that something happened much later and caused problems. But it was through his telling the story of Robinson that he discovered things were not what they seem.
“I discovered Jackie like so many of us, and was really fascinated by it. And that was also fooled by the fact that only in Montreal this was possible, only in Canada and we are not like the States,” Pardo says. “I figured it must have been amazing an amazing time, And then I hear about the Jazz in Little Burgundy so, I figured this was an ideal moment of history that should be told. But more and more that I started digging and meeting people like Dorothy Williams and reading her thesis on the Jackie Robinson myth, I went, ‘Oh my God, there’s something that’s wrong… ’cause. I know things are not right today. right but what truly happened?’”
“Our life is resistance and our presence in revolution and our culture is freedom,” Pardo says to Robinson in the film.
The film keenly examines the society that was heralded as post racial, the situation Blacks faced and what they still face. Pardo looks into the myth that Montreal transcended the problem of tense race relations in the 1940’s.
And tells the story through different characters from seniors in their 80’s to the young. The cast, although eclectic, show the diverging experiences of Black Montrealers in the little burgundy neighbourhood.
And while Robinson went back to the US and found himself involved in his work as an activist, in Montreal the racial grind continued.
All of which Pardo says was deliberate to enforce an emotional connection that educates and can be long lasting for the audiences who interact with it.
“For me, teaching is wonderful when there is an emotional connection. I think you remember things more. We make it more useful when we’re touched. So that’s why I love what I do,” he explained. “My job is to find that emotional link so it lends somewhere. And that’s with meeting great characters like the ones in the film. Instead of dates, facts and numbers we end up with a connection to a story.”
The film is shot in black and white and includes original audio and visual clips of Montreal from the 1940’s. Videos of cultural landmarks that no longer exist are shown not just for nostalgia but as a reference point for us who are here to remember where we come from. those who are here to know where they came from.
The community lost building like the Negro Community Centre (NCC), a place that served the Black community from 1927 to 1994.
Statistics show also that over 7000 homes were lost to gentrification even though there was monetary compensation it wasn’t enough to buy the new apartments that were being put up.
And the progress so many Black families had made has regressed.
Issues of racism back then and now are clearly outlined in the film. It gives room for introspection for one to think about how far they have come and how far they have to go.
Because he sees this film so relevant to our history and reality, Pardo is encourging the community to make an effort to see Dear Jackie.
“This is a film for us. Let’s get out there and watch it in the cinema. This is ours.”
Dear Jackie will be in cinemas from June 17. Henri Pardo will be at selective shows fielding questions from the public.
Show times are as follows: Friday, June 17 at 6 p.m.at Cinéma Public (505 Jean-Talon St. East) Screening in English Sunday, June 19 at 3:30 p.m. – Screening in French
Cinéma du Musée (1379-A Sherbrooke St. West) Saturday, June 18 at 2:30 p.m. – Screening in English Sunday, June 19 at 7 p.m. – Screening in French
Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve Blvd. East) Saturday, June 18 at 4 p.m. – Screening in French Cinema Moderne (5150 St-Laurent Blvd.) Saturday, June 18 at 6:30 p.m. – Screening in French