John Ware Reclaimed Parent Guide
A decent documentary if you can overlook the appalling musical numbers.
Parent Movie Review
In the public imagination, cowboys are usually tall, rugged, independent…and white. In this documentary, Cheryl Foggo re-examines the history of famous black Canadian cowboy John Ware, an early settler in Alberta and minor folk hero. As she learns more about Ware, she also relates the impact his story has had on her life and family. Foggo leaves no stone unturned, exploring documentation in ghost towns on the prairie, consulting geological surveyors and archaeologists, and even flying to Utah to visit experts in genealogy and family history.
I’m going to start with the biggest problem with this documentary, which is that the director seems unable to resist the allure of inserting herself as a character in the story. While her experiences as a person of color growing up in Calgary are hugely valuable to the background of the story, and while her family history is an important part of the history of the province, she doesn’t stop there, and I wish she had. Foggo is also responsible for a play titled John Ware Reimagined and insists on using musical numbers from the play throughout the documentary. That might not have been a problem if the musical numbers had been, you know…good.
The combined effect of those issues is that the film feels muddled and unfocused at times – rather than tracking the story of John Ware, we seem to bounce between his story, Foggo’s experiences in tracking his story, and peripherally related early Albertan history. I wish it wasn’t such a mess, because the actual history is fascinating and important: Canadians sit on a mighty high horse about race. Canadians have a deplorable tendency to act as if Canada never had a problem with racism, that every iconic image from the Civil Rights movement in the United States indicates that the problem was confined to the US. The story of John Ware should help to knock that unearned confidence down a peg. Just because Calgary named a junior high school after Ware doesn’t mean he didn’t encounter the same wide-reaching racism Canada practiced against thousands of other people.
Despite the fact that I screened this film through the digital offerings of the Calgary International Film Festival, it feels like I watched it in a Social Studies class some time in junior high. It’s educational…when it remembers that the director isn’t the primary subject of the film. If you can muscle your way past the truly ghastly musical interludes, there’s important history to be had, even if you aren’t from Southern Alberta. While John Ware’s experiences aren’t exactly universal, they can definitely be instructional – and, if nothing else, interesting.Directed by Cheryl Foggo. Running time: 70 minutes. Theatrical release September 24, 2020. Updated September 25, 2020
John Ware Reclaimed
Rating & Content Info
Why is John Ware Reclaimed rated G? John Ware Reclaimed is rated G by the MPAA
Sexual Content: None.
Profanity: There is brief use of racial slurs, and more are seen in writing.
Alcohol / Drug Use: There are references to social drinking.
Page last updated September 25, 2020
John Ware Reclaimed Parents' Guide
How has Canada managed the discussion about historical racism in light of the recent protests? What kind of responsibility does Canada have in that regard? What have your experiences with race been in Canada? How has Canada’s reputation for “nice” impacted its ability to discuss racism?
Maclean’s: Why being “nice” is bad for Canada
The Canadian Encyclopedia: John Ware
Related home video titles:
The Grizzlies is about an Inuit community in the Canadian territories and their struggle with addiction, poverty, and racism – and how they faced those challenges with the sport of lacrosse.
Perhaps the worst example of musical Canadian history is Stand!, which is ostensibly about the incredible General Strike in Winnipeg.