On Day 1 of TIFF, Lainey mentioned that I would be writing about a couple of films that may not get widespread media attention. One of those films is Clement Virgo’s Rude. Rude will not be in the running for any Oscars come February, mainly because Rude was initially released in 1995. It’s also a small, unnerving film about the black Canadian experience so even when it was eligible for mainstream award recognition, it was largely overlooked. Rude is now, as the kids would say, getting its come-up.
Rude was the first full length dramatic feature film directed by an African Canadian and featuring an all-black cast. 22 years later, the themes and storylines Clement Virgo explores in Rude are still painfully relevant which is why it was chosen for TIFF’s Canada on Screen series as one of three films which were restored and screened for the festival. Rude follows three stories: a woman dealing with her decision to have an abortion, a boxer struggling with his sexuality and an ex-con hoping for a second chance at fatherhood in a system set up for him to fail – all in the span of one Easter weekend. The stories are narrated by an irreverent, captivating and poetic radio deejay, the 1995 version of Sam in Dear White People. The same way Sam’s narration calls out the uncomfortable and harsh reality of her surroundings, Rude’s deejay is deliberately provocative, acting as the brash inner voice of the inner city project where all three characters live. It’s such a similar vibe to Dear White People, I wouldn’t be surprised if DWP director Justin Simien was influenced by Virgo’s work. Virgo went on to become a powerhouse, co-writing and directing The Book of Negroes and working on shows like The Wire, The L Word, The Get Down, American Crime. He also serves as an executive producer on the OWN drama Greenleaf. Since Rude, Virgo has put in WORK for black stories and it doesn’t look like he’s stopping any time soon.
As for Rude’s relevance in 2017, the story of Luke, a former drug dealer who has just been released from prison and wants nothing more than to live a clean life and be a better man for his estranged wife and son, could easily be told today with the same impact. Luke (Maurice Dean Wint) wants to live a clean life but he can’t even scrounge up a dollar to buy his kid an ice cream bar. He’s a black man with a criminal record, unable to get any other work and saddled with a life he now can’t escape, no matter how much he wants to. After Ava Duvernay’s documentary, 13th, the conversation about how America’s war on drugs disproportionately targets black men is front and center once again. How many stories like Luke’s are unfolding daily in black America? How many men of colour fall victim to a cycle of crime and poverty without the opportunity for a second chance? Luke’s story is devastating and important.
Rude’s strength lies with Luke aka the General and his family but the film’s multiple story format leaves you wanting more from the other two narratives. Luke’s story is fully formed. Jordan, the closeted boxer whose friends pressure him to engage in homophobic bullying, is a heartbreaking character but I wanted more for him. In his moments of vulnerability, the film makes a commentary on masculinity that, again, still speaks to the bullsh-t gender norms black men face. With Maxine, the young woman grappling with a lover who leaves her after she makes a choice about her body (Racheal Crawford), I don’t need to tell you why her story still matters when every day we’re reading headlines about old, white men making decisions about women’s health.
It’s also important that this movie is Canadian. For every headline about America’s f-cked up climate, there’s a naïve Canadian on Twitter proclaiming that this country is a post-racial oasis that Americans should escape to. Canada is great and there are things about this country I love a lot but a post-racial oasis it is not. Here’s where I yell at you to read Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Janaya Khan’s piece for FLARE called “Don’t Kid Yourself, White Nationalism Is on the Rise in Canada Too.” White supremacy is a theme running through Rude and embodied in the white drug lord who pressures Luke the General to deal again. It’s a reality the narrator drives home over and over again. This movie was made 22 years ago and as f-cking depressing as that is, it’s still required viewing.
If you missed any of the free TIFF screenings of Rude and you live in the following areas, you can catch it at Cinefest Sudbury, The Edmonton International Film Festival and additional upcoming dates at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.