The staging of an interrupted mourning
Imagine that your child is killed.
Killed by the bullets of a police officer during an intervention that should never have occurred.
You mourn as best you can, and Quebec sympathizes with you. But the sympathy that you receive is soon transformed into a repugnant spectacle through the excessive media coverage of your family and yourself.
Worse yet, you realize very quickly that justice for the tragic death of your child may never materialize.
One day, amid the whirlwind that followed this senseless loss of life, you learn that an author is interested in your story for a documentary theater project.
The woman seems friendly. You accept, after a period of reflection, to share your story, as you believe the project aims to honour the memory of your son and to make better known the unjustice that you suffered.
Then nothing. No more news. A few years later, the woman resurfaces, but you no longer recognize her project, even as it now bears the name of your son. Its once-noble aim is gone, replaced by the pure commodification of your tragedy. Your feelings about the play carry no weight. Your opposition to the play will not impede its production.
You are shocked. Having survived the loss of your child, you must now survive the loss of his memory, which will now be molded by others. Mourning with dignity is no longer a privilege accorded to you.
Can the mourning a child, already arduous, not receive a minimum of sympathy and respect? Evidently not.
This is the story of Lilian Madrid, the mother of Fredy Villanueva.
As difficult as it has been, her re-traumatization is not yet over. The play that brutishly dissects the still-unhealed wounds from the death of Fredy is about to be presented to a wider audience.
This violence must end.
I am the member of the support committee for the Villanueva family who agreed to play a role in the play written by the author in question, Annabel Soutar (Compagnie Porte Parole), and performed in March 2016 at the Théâtre la Licorne in Montreal, Quebec.
Gradually, this involvement meant being a member not just of the support committee for the Villanueva family, but also the support committee for the play of Annabel Soutar. I found myself giving interviews about the play to newspapers and radio stations, and serving as a messenger between the production, on the one hand, and the support committee for the Villanueva family and Mrs. Lilian Madrid, on the other. I was suddenly a translator between two worlds. All of this work, I hoped, would make Mrs. Soutar more and more willing to listen to the demands of Lilian Madrid and make the play more and more reflective of reality.
Even in the question period that followed each performance, it became very difficult for me to avoid coming to the defense of this play that seemed, in that moment, to be more real that the social struggles and individuals that it claimed to be bringing to the stage. These were some of the contradictions created by my presence in the play, a presence that suggested that communications between Mrs. Soutar and Mrs. Villanueva were still taking place.
Despite a meeting that I tried to organize on June 15th, 2016, between Mrs. Madrid and Annabel Soutar in the presence of the support committee for the Villanueva family, the plan to re-launch the play bearing Fredy’s name endures without the consent of his mother.
When a playwright admits that her work is guilty of cultural appropriation, but carries on with the work unphased, what is one to do?
When a person facilitates the commodification of your suffering without securing the full consent of those most intimately affected, what is one to do?
Do not enter my soul with your shoes on — Natacha Kanapé Fontaine
Lilian wanted people to get to know Fredy, not overexpose his brother, Dany. Lilian does not want this play to be re-launched and toured across Canada. Lilian wants to bring an end to the dynamic that seeks to convince her that the play is a generous gift to her from its author, when it’s actually the opposite. Lilian recalls that Fredy was her son, not a piece of theatre.
When a person realizes that her story is coming to belong to her less and less, and is about to be offered as a cultural product anywhere in the world that wishes to receive it, what is one to do?
We engage in discussion. But then what?
I make appeal to our collective responsibility to the memory of Fredy and to the pain of a mother who wishes to mourn her son in privacy and quiet contemplation.
Having given up trying to forge relations of accountability between the play and the Villanueva family and doubtful of my capacity to elicit a critical perpsective on the play through my presence in it, I am doing what Mrs. Villanueva has asked me to do. I cannot maintain a presence in the play that effectively serves to efface the legitimate indignation of a mother who asks that, if Fredy cannot be given back to her, she might at least be given back his history.
I hope Annabel will do the same.