Clement Virgo’s Brother Brings Scarborough’s Beauty to the World
IT’S NOT TO SAY THAT CLEMENT VIRGO DIDN’T EMBRACE the gritty beauty of Regent Park in his 1995 film Rude, but there is a marked difference in how Toronto, specifically Scarborough, is portrayed in his latest film, Brother.
“It took me a long time to really appreciate and love where I came from and see the beauty in it,” the acclaimed Canadian director tells Exclaim! during TIFF 2022. “Because you grew up thinking that where you’re from is not beautiful, it’s not worthy of a story.”
Based on David Chariandy’s award-winning novel of the same name, Brother is set in 1990s Scarborough and follows Francis (Aaron Pierre) and Michael (Scarborough’s own Lamar Johnson), two brothers being raised by their single mother, Ruth (Marsha Stephanie Blake). It’s a coming-of-age story that digs into the fragility of life and the power of our relations that puts Scarborough front and centre.
While not shying away from its sometimesgritty reality, Virgo shows the strength and warmth that Scarborough’s communities bring to a part of Toronto often dismissed by the media and susceptible to unfair judgment and biases from those not from there.
In Chariandy’s book, the family is from Trinidad, where the author’s family hails, but in the film (and with Chariandy’s blessing), Virgo relocated them to Jamaica, where the director was born. The result is a poignant and personal story that is very distinct in its circumstances.
“The more I made movies, the more I wanted them to be specific,” Virgo explains. “The best movies are specific and bring you into a world that you don’t know about and communicate this kind of humanity.”
There was always the risk that Brother was maybe too specific for audiences outside of Toronto to appreciate. While it’s true that those from Scarborough, or similar communities, may find a deeper attachment to the material, the magic of film is its ability to connect with audiences from completely different backgrounds than its characters. And for Virgo, this is effectively what he hopes to capture in all of his films.
“The best movies for me are when I’m watching a film and I’m reflecting on my own identity, my own feelings, my own kind of discourse and conversation with the film and the images,” says Virgo. “That’s what art is. We’re trying to communicate, and to say, ‘I felt this way. Have you also felt this way at some point?’”