Last month theater audiences were transported back to the Summer of 1991 and introduced to the characters of Michael and Francis, the sons of Caribbean immigrants and their journey of maturing into young men in Director Clement Virgo’s newest film, “Brother.”
The film features the talents of Lamar Johnson and Aaron Pierre in the lead roles of Michael and Francis. Propelled by the pulsing bests of Toronto’s early hip hop scene, the film holds onto a mystery, which slowly unfolds for audiences as escalating tension sets off a series of events, which change the course of these brothers’ lives forever.
Also starring Marsha Stephanie Blake, Kiana Madeira and Lovell Adams-Gray, the screenplay for “Brother” is written by Virgo, which was adapted from David Chariandy’s award-winning novel of the same name.
In an exclusive interview with Branson Tri-Lakes News Entertainment Editor Tim Church, Virgo shared a variety of in-depth insight in the writing of his screenplay and the journey behind his latest filming endeavor. Virgo explained when he was first introduced to the novelization on which his film was based, he found himself reading it with great speed.
“It was a book that a friend of mine recommended. I took a photograph of the cover when she showed me the cover. I was going away on a vacation and I thought, I need a book to read while I’m away, so I bought the book and I read it and I read it very quickly,” Virgo said. “Why I wanted to make the film and make it into a film is just the characters in it, the world, the emotional depth of the novel, the thematic ideas in the novel all sort of resonated with me and naturally I wanted to see it as a film. I reached out to David and he was generous enough to say that ‘You can have the rights to my novel.’”
For audiences who have read the book and plan to see the film, Virgo addressed a few of the small, but notable changes between Chariandy’s novel and his script.
“David’s book is set just outside of Scarborough, which is just outside of Toronto, Canada and it’s about an immigrant family from Trinidad. It’s a bit of a mystery. An event happens to one of the members of the family and we slowly unravel through a sense of memory and history what really happened to this family,” Virgo said. “I grew up in Toronto, so one of the things that I wanted to change was the location of where the family came from to Jamaica. So I changed that. And in the novel, David was very specific in terms of the music. One of the characters wants to be an artist and musician and I really loved and gravitated towards that, so I used as much of that as I could in the film.”
When tasked with casting the characters in the story, Virgo shared how he was led to the specific actors starring in his film.
“The lead is played by Lamar Johnson and Lamar was in a mini-series, ‘The Last of Us’ and he’s just most recently become an Emmy nominee. Lamar’s from Toronto and he’s from Scarborough and he’s one of those young actors that I was following and he was one of the first people that I reached out to, to play the lead. Aaron Pierre is a Brit. He’s from South London and I saw him in Barry Jenkin’s mini-series ‘The Underground Railroad’ and I met Aaron in Los Angeles and I just liked his vulnerability, I liked his masculinity, I liked his femininity and just his energy overall. I wanted someone who people could follow,” Virgo said. “Then Marsha Stephanie Blake, who plays the mom. She’s from Jamaica and lives in New York and she just knew who this woman was. I saw her in a film called ‘Luce’ and I was very, very impressed by her courage and her braveness and just her fierceness and I asked her to be in the film. That was the core and once I had that I could just cast them and get out of their way.”
In a previous interview with a Canadian news outlet, Virgo stated the following: “We all live in our own movie and we all think I’m the only person who has ever felt grief and the only person who has ever felt pain or loss or love. What’s great about stories and movies and art is that it is mirrored back to you.”
When asked if he could expand upon that quote in reference to the creation of the film, Virgo provided us with this in-depth point of view.
“We all create narratives in our head as we move through the world, as we encounter the world and encounter other people. We mimic and we make assumptions and we make leaps. We create this story about what you may be thinking about me and we think those feelings are unique to us. That you couldn’t possibly understand how I’m feeling, because in the history of the world I’m the only one who’s ever had these feelings. You realize at some point there is sort of a universal feeling,” Virgo said. “A great song commentates that and you realize, ‘How does a songwriter know what I’m feeling,” because they’ve gone through it. How does this filmmaker, when you see a moment in a movie and it sort of speaks to you on a deeper level and you think, ‘How was this filmmaker in my head? How did they understand these feelings?’ I think there is this sort of collective joy, collective pain and there’s a collective grief that we all kind of share as humanity and successful arts basically says ‘This is how I’m feeling. Do you feel that as well?’”
“Brother” premiered at TIFF in 2022 and won 12 Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Motion Picture and Achievement in Direction. The film was distributed for showing at select cinemas and on VOD on YouTube, Apple TV, Vudu, Google Play and Redbox.
To learn more about Virgo, his past projects and keep up on what he has coming soon, visit clementvirgo.com.