“Scarborough” is a film that gives a strong voice to a community and its residents, people whose stories often are purposefully ignored and go unheard by the rest of society. Based on the 2017 novel by Catherine Hernandez, this film is heartbreaking, hopeful, and a vital companion for understanding what it’s like to live as an underprivileged person in an increasingly hostile world.
Located near Toronto, Scarborough is a culturally diverse, low-income neighborhood with a population over 625,000. It’s considered an inner city community, and the area is one that suffers from crime, drugs, and poverty. This fictional film tells the story of several residents and families in the area who are all struggling with their own battles to survive. They all share a common bond, coming together with a pride in their community with a solidarity that’s inspiring. As with most films that have a setup like this, everyone’s stories converge at the end. It feels a little hokey and forced, but it works.
While the plot is burdened with too much story, the film is compelling because it creates a strong bond between the audience and the characters. Everyone is sympathetic and presented in a way that gets you to care almost immediately, with impassioned performances that sometimes border on the melodramatic. Over the course of the film, we share in their highs and lows, their joy and pain. It makes every tragedy more distressing and every little victory more gratifying. Even while traversing the worst that life has to offer, including being seen as an afterthought by the more affluent, the residents here manage to take care of each other. The film really hits home just how much of an impact the smallest act of kindness can make.
It’s heartbreaking and infuriating the treatment these characters face, from insufficient health care to inadequate educational opportunities. “Scarborough” shows human beings doing the best they can to get by, even when the system seems designed to keep them from ever getting out of their bad situations. The social commentary here is much like that in “The Florida Project,” a good companion film that also shines light on the unseen.
This film was screened for review at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
By: Louisa Moore