The very first email Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo received on Wednesday morning was from Scarborough author Catherine Hernandez.
“It said, ‘Congratulations. Well deserved’,” Virgo tells ET Canada. “At first I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.”
Then he checked the news and saw that his movie “Brother”, a coming-of-age story set in Scarborough that he wrote and directed, received 14 Canadian Screen Awards nominations, topping all nods in the film category.
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Just as Hernandez’s book was turned into an acclaimed film (2021’s “Scarborough”), “Brother” is an adaptation of a 2017 novel by David Chariandy. It follows two sons of Caribbean immigrants as they grow into young men while traversing Toronto’s ’90s hip hop scene. Among the CSA nods it received were Best Motion Picture and Achievement in Direction.
“It feels heartening and overwhelming. And I’m stunned,” says Virgo about receiving the nominations.
“I’ve been making films for 20-plus years and I’ve made some good films, I’ve made some films that weren’t as good as ‘Brother’. As a filmmaker, as artists, we’ve all had ups and downs. So to have a film that people respond to in this way and to have 14 nominations, it’s encouraging.”
Like the brothers in his film, Virgo, who was born in Jamaica, is an immigrant who grew up in an underserved area of Toronto — Regent Park. His work often tells stories about the immigrant experience and masculinity, which is a throughline that can be traced back to his 1995 debut film, “Rude”.
On top of the CSA nods, “Brother” also made the Toronto International Film Festival’s Top Ten list for 2022.
Virgo says seeing his film rack up the accolades is significant for Scarborough and communities like it.
“We’re so used to seeing films set in New York, Brooklyn, L.A., Paris, Seoul, Korea,” he says. “But to see a film set in Scarborough and saying that this community is just as valid, these lives are just as valid and these stories resonate, is important to me. [It says] that the community that shaped a lot of us, that shaped me, is recognized around the country. Hopefully people will see it elsewhere.”
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While Canada’s film and TV industry has been criticized for its lack of diversity both on and off the screen, Virgo says he’s encouraged to see racialized voices lead this year’s CSA nominations, including Anthony Shim’s Korean family drama “Riceboy Sleeps” and CBC’s “The Porter”, the first Canadian drama series from an all-Black creative team.
“When I started out there was there weren’t a lot of us making film and television,” Virgo says. “There were some, but they weren’t where the numbers are now. And this year, in 2023, to see the list of nominees at the CSAs and the diverse faces, it’s heartening. It’s says to me that the ecosystem in Canada that is making film and television is recognizing this work. We’ve come some ways from when I started.”
Ultimately, Virgo says, seeing BIPOC-led productions get recognition reflects “the diversity of the country.” He says he aims to do the same whenever he’s casting for a project, adding that’s he’s currently working on a Netflix thriller called “The Madness”.
“Whenever I work on a show, and what was important for me on ‘Brother’, was to have the crew reflect the faces that I see when I take the subway every day,” he says. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”