Dear Jackie Robinson Montreal film

Dear Jackie highlights the history of the Black community in Montreal

Through letters to Jackie Robinson, director Henri Pardo deconstructs the myth of Quebec as a post-racial society.

The concept of Henri Pardo’s Dear Jackie seems simple on the surface; a series of letters address the legendary Jackie Robinson, examining his time in Montreal and the long veil of his impact. The movie, however, is far from a documentary about Robinson’s life or his time in Montreal. Instead, it expands its vision to examine the social and historical perspective of the Black community in Montreal and Quebec. 

Jackie Robinson has become a legend in Montreal and the United States as the first Black man to play in major league baseball after a stint with the Montreal Royals. He was a celebrated figure within Montreal and quickly became a symbol of Quebec’s self-mythologized post-racial society. The film re-examines that history with fresh eyes through archival images and memories, revealing how Robinson was treated versus Black Quebec residents and how white communities used his groundbreaking history to uplift themselves as they continued to neglect, abuse and displace the city’s Black neighbourhoods. While politicians spoke with reverence about their treatment of Jackie Robinson, they did little to improve the conditions and treatment of Black Montrealers. 

Dear Jackie features some archival footage, with much of the movie centred in Little Burgundy, once known as “Harlem of the North.” Impressionistic and driven by different themes and ideas, the film interweaves a history of Montreal not taught in school, from the Black porters to the razing of thousands of family homes — owned chiefly by Black families — to make way for a highway project. 

With persuasive precision, the movie draws these links of hypocrisy, making a compelling case against the myths perpetuated by white leadership that systematic racism does not exist in Quebec and Canada. Racism is not just a thing of the past but a reality still faced by Black city residents today. If the current government and many of the province’s residents won’t even acknowledge the truth, how can it improve them? One of the subjects, firefighter Dave Shelton, discusses how Quebec and Canada were founded on genocide, and those crimes need to be addressed honestly and truthfully to build a road forward. Why can’t we do that? Why are so many Canadians unwilling to see things as they are, not just as they want things to be? 

The contemporaneous interview subjects include retired teacher and former athlete Ivan Livingstone, activist Majiza Philip, CKUT host Pat Dillon-Moore, food-bank worker Charlene Hunte and many others. Many interviews use a standard talking-head format, but the movie also follows them into work and community spaces. Personable and open, we have a sense of how residents stepped in where the government lacked, creating spaces and circles of support for the neighbourhood. What does activism look like? It’s not just empty words. It’s demonstrated through action, commitment and compassion. 

The documentary format of letters, as seen in other essay films such as recent RIDM picks like The Metamorphosis of Birds, often focuses on the personal; with Dear Jackie, director Henri Pardo rejects individualism in favour of the collective. The personal, in this case, is indistinguishable from the political and social realities of the community it represents. The collection of voices that speak is singular and unique, reflecting personal experiences, but are also deeply intertwined — not only with each other, but with the past as well. 

While the film finds much to celebrate in its subjects, it never shies away from work still left to be done. In many ways a community celebration, the film also mourns all that could be. In interviews that discuss mistreatment from the police or homes and families lost to careless government policies, there remains an obstacle to freedom and liberation. ■

Dear Jackie, directed by Henri Pardo

Dear Jackie opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, June 17. The film premieres tonight and has five more screenings over the weekend that will all be followed by Q&A sessions with director Henri Pardo.

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