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Playwright Yolanda Bonnell is a two-spirit, Ojibwe/South Asian performer who has written a new play entitled Bug, which is now playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. The aim of her play is to take a stand against colonialism. Bonnell has requested that the media only allow Indigenous, black or other people of colour to review her play.
“I do a lot of work in terms of decolonizing theatre… and for me this was one of those steps — taking away the colonial lens,” said Bonnell in an interview with Tom Power for CBC’s Q radio.
“There is an aspect to cultural work—or in our case, artistic ceremony— which does not align with current colonial reviewing practices,” Bonnell said in her official statement. “In order to encourage a deeper discussion of the work, we are inviting critiques or thoughts from IBPOC folks only. There is a specific lens that white settlers view cultural work through and at this time, we’re just not interested in bolstering that view, but rather the thoughts and views of fellow marginalized voices, and in particular Indigenous women.”
“You could hear perhaps a white critic, more likely someone on the internet, but a white critic say something like, ‘You know, I may be white but I don’t see things through that lens, what would you say?’” the CBC host asked Bonnell during the interview.
Bonnell laughed at the question and responded, “You can’t help but see things through that lens. We all have lenses that we see the world through and it directly correlates to our life experience. Unless you’re an Indigenous woman you don’t know what it’s like to be an Indigenous woman. Unless your a two-spirit individual or a trans, or non-binary you don’t know what that experience is like. So if somebody is writing a story about that, the lens that you’re viewing it through, its directly going to affect how you view that story, or how you write about it. There are going to be aspects that you don’t understand.”
However, Bonnell doesn’t feel the same is true from the other way around.
“We, as people of colour, understand whiteness to its core because we’ve grown up with it, especially people who’ve grown up here in Canada. My friend, a wonderful Indigenous playwright from the west coast Kim Senklip Harvey says she has her ‘ Ph.D. in whiteness’ and I feel very much similar.”
Bonnell’s play Bug will be performed at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto from now through Feb. 22.