King turns to Tough Love in a Toronto ’hood

Dean of Canadian documentarians Allan King who in recent years has brought Dying at Grace and Memory to TIFF screenings now turns his cinema verité camera on he troubled Malvern area of Toronto.

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Brian Henry in Tough Love

Black Brian Henry, ex-con and dedicated volunteer for a youth agency selects a group of Black teeners for a learning course in mathematics under the guidance of White teacher John Mighton.We’re not in Denzel Washington/Sydney Poitier territory here. This is no “inspirational” film; the very rawness of the cinematography conveys the charged atmosphere in which the students move, with local gangs very much present and the constant threat of being stopped and questioned by police.

At all times, Henry levels with the kids, telling them of the alternatives to learning. He’s tough on them: “You’re succeeding in keeping the Black race in prison” he tells one initially recalcitrant student. But he’s relentlessly persistent on their behalf and the result of his experiment showing the kids’ awe and the beginning of their self-pride as they come through the course.

The film ends on a note that although men like Brian Henry are rare examples, they too are only human and sometimes question their own ability to carry on the uphill battle.

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