When Cree musician, artist, actor and activist Daybi offered a role in a Health Canada promotional video about Covid-19, he figured it would be a chance to get back to work and spread a good message.
Instead, he ended up passing on the opportunity because of the use of a French term – “sauvage” – in production documents and getting Health Canada and the production company they contracted to change their policies.
Daybi, whose real name is Geoffrey Pranteau, is originally from Winnipeg, with family from Grand Rapids, Manitoba. He’s been living in Montreal for the past several years, where he’s been working on harm-reduction projects with Native youth and doing street outreach in addition to his artistic pursuits.
With fewer work opportunities after the pandemic hit, Pranteau thought the role would be a good change of pace. Then he read the documents on the project.
“Looking at the contract, it said ‘casting sauvage’, which just sealed it.” Pranteau explained to the Nation. “It was too much for me.”
The term casting sauvage is frequently used to refer to the English equivalent of “open casting” or “cattle calls”, but the term “sauvage” (meaning wild, unspoiled and savage) is also widely used as a slur against Indigenous people in French. Pranteau says the word “sauvage” is akin to the N-word used to disparage Black people, and is used informally to disparage Indigenous people in Quebec.
“I couldn’t sleep, it was bothering me. My experiences have always been positive with these things, but all these red flags went up,” said Pranteau.
In part, he explained, it was the fact that the production company which sent the contract to a group of Indigenous actors didn’t see anything wrong with the phrase.
He also stated that he discovered the company wanted to use only one bus to transport all the actors to the filming location – something he felt uncomfortable with in the context of Covid-19.
The following day, Pranteau contacted a friend who had sent him the casting call. The friend confirmed she also hadn’t had a great experience with the producers.
After explaining that he wouldn’t be participating in the video, his story spread. Eventually, Health Canada issued a statement apologizing to Pranteau and others offended by the term.
“The term used in the contract’s file name is offensive and inappropriate. We were not aware of this situation and are grateful that this has been brought to our attention,” Health Canada stated.
“We have instructed Cossette, our creative agency, to immediately address the issue with their subcontractor. In the future, we will instruct any agency we work with to use the term – and to require their subcontractors to use the term – ‘open casting’ or ‘audition publique’ for any call outs related to our contracts.”
Éloi Beauchamps, the owner of Productions l’Éloi, which was contracted by Health Canada to create the video, also issued an apology to Pranteau in an interview with CBC and said they would not use the term in the future. Productions l’Éloi did not respond to an interview request.
French fashion company Dior also recently pulled a promotional video featuring Johnny Depp for their “Sauvage” cologne.
Pranteau says he didn’t expect any of this to come out of his actions, but he does hope others will take the time to look at the history behind offensive terms and learn about the broader issues.
“Take the time to explore the ideas behind this motion – for people to analyze who they are, why these things are happening around us. These people have been raised with this way of doing things, I’m not here to judge it,” Pranteau said.
“But we have to be diligent and move forward humbly.”