I recently had the opportunity to watch a TIFF digital screening of Scarborough. It was written by the author of the acclaimed book of the same name, Catherine Hernandez, and is part of TIFF’s Share Her Journey program.
Before the film begins, Hernandez speaks to viewers telling us the film is about the forgotten parts of the city, stratified by race and class, and that there are “Scarboroughs” in every city. Her words, “I see you. I acknowledge you, I celebrate you,” haunted me, as I was immersed into a documentary-style narrative of families going through a series of what seemed to be one crisis after another. From intimate partner violence, addictions, chronic illness, housing instability to precarious employment, hunger and racism, the characters were falling through our fragmented social safety nets.
Yet at the heart of the film is the interwoven story of three children, Bing, Sylvie and Laura. At a parenting and literacy centre helmed by Hina, they find reprieve from the chaos that surrounds them and they are able to just be children — children who laugh, invent games and play, dress up for Halloween, and participate in a talent show. Some of them have caring and loving, if beleaguered parents, some of them have parents who are abusive and addicted, but Hina, as if personifying Hernandez’s words, sees them, acknowledges them, and celebrates them.
While I found the storyline disheartening and unsettling, and the divide between villains and heroes a little too blatant, the film is redeemed by captivating performances of the children and the narrative of the possibility of people in one’s community — other adults — rising above institutional and collective apathy and summoning the empathy to make a difference.
To learn more about the Social Justice Committee, come to our first meeting on September 29 at 5:30 pm. Zoom link here.