Tonight (February 9) at 6:10 p.m., the VIFF Centre will offer a free screening of a riveting film focusing on the Black experience in Montreal. Dear Jackie is writer-director Henri Pardo’s cinematic letter to baseball great Jackie Robinson but it is so much more than mere biography.
Featuring various Black Montreal residents, the film certainly reveals their glowing memories and awe for Major League Baseball’s first Black player. Robinson played one year in the minors with the Montreal Royals in 1946 and sometimes attended church in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood.
However, Pardo also vividly demonstrates that a myth arose in the wake of Robinson’s stint with the Royals. Because he was treated so well by many fans, his single season cemented an image of Montreal as being far more racially progressive than U.S. cities, where Robinson endured abhorrent racism.
Moreover, the city’s history, as shown in Dear Jackie, belies the legend of Montreal the Good. In particular, Pardo reveals this in the city’s decision decades later to rip out the heart of the Black community—the Little Burgundy neighbourhood—with destructive “urban renewal”.
In addition, Dear Jackie documents brutal police racism targeting Black residents in the 1980s and 1990s, among other outrages.
Dear Jackie shows gritty reality
With Dear Jackie, Black History Month comes alive on-screen in ways that have never been shown before in Canada. It’s heartfelt. It’s dramatic. And it’s all true.
The reality, as this film demonstrates, is that as phenomenal as Robinson was on and off the baseball diamond in Montreal, he’s still just a footnote in the Black history of Canada.
In fact, the resilience of Montreal’s Black community in response to ongoing, persistent, and often vicious racism was on display over a far longer period of time. And Pardo effectively captures this in the voices of so many of its articulate residents, as well as through exceptional historical footage.
Dear Jackie screens in the VIFF Centre’s Studio Theatre at 6:10 p.m. on Thursday (February 9). It’s part of the VIFF Centre’s Black History Month Dispatches series, which also includes Our Dance of Revolution, James Baldwin Abroad, and 4 Films by Camille Billops & James Hatch (Programme 1 and Programme 2), Follow Pancouver editor Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.