The debut of a Toronto film at the American Black Film Festival has writers, directors and actors pumped and for good reason.
“It’s the first Toronto movie that got into the American Black Film Festival and has a lot of nuances from Toronto,” said director Ron Dias, who wrote and produced “Bite of a Mango” with Joanne Jansen.
The Toronto-based filmmaker continued: “In terms of just being recognized across the border by all these amazing Black executives that have been in Hollywood for decades, watching our movie and putting it in a competition with 10 other movies, and then being nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Feature. It’s just overwhelming and there’s nothing but gratitude in my heart. And of course, all these lovely actors get to shine now.”
Ryan Rosery, who stars as Tray in the film, said he was humbled by the opportunity and how far the film has come.
“I’ve always believed that Toronto has such amazing talent, but it felt like there was a lack of authenticity with the type of projects that were being made here in Toronto. For Ron to take a risk and really bet on himself and cast people that are authentic and to tell this authentic Toronto story … and then to make it to the States, it’s humbling. It’s very humbling.
“We’ve always been kind of the underdogs and you see it with everything when it comes to music, even with the Toronto Raptors winning and it’s like now there’s another opportunity where we’re out here to showcase that this is what we do. We have stories, we have real situations that we deal with, just like everybody else, and this is an opportunity to showcase it.”
Rosery’s co-star, actor Jayne Kamara, said she was “was really frustrated with how my auditions were going and with the type of roles I was getting. (There was) nothing of any substance and nothing I can really relate to. Ron and Joanne brought this opportunity to me and it was phenomenal. I loved it.”
Dias and Jansen wrote the script in two days and filmed it during the pandemic. The Black Lives Matter movement had a huge effect on the film’s storyline.
“There’s nothing as big in 2020 as George Floyd and how it affected everybody. The way we saw these protests all over the world, I’d never seen anything in my lifetime that way and I’ve seen a lot of protests. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, so I was able to write off his inspiration for Tray’s character. But I also saw a lot of racism and nothing had hit this big. There’s no way I could tell a story in 2020 and not deal with the racism we had,” Dias said.
Nathan Taylor, who made his feature film debut in “Bite of a Mango,” said: “I did really take in the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement that was happening during 2020 and how heavy that had weighed on my heart just by being a Black person. Even though I’m in Canada, Black people are affected by this around the world and we lost people in Toronto and people all over the world. So I brought that to the character.”
Besides conversations about the BLM movement, actor Orville Cummings hopes that the film shines a light on Toronto.
“There’s a lack of representation in Toronto and a lot of people in the States or anywhere in the world don’t really know what’s going on over here and don’t really know how rich the culture is over here.”
Dias previously wrote, directed and produced the short film “Mariposa,” which appeared at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. With this film, he also hopes to see the narrative change with how local films have to be recognized in the States before doors open in Canada.
“I hate the narrative that we always have to go to America so we can get recognized in Canada, which is always the case they said about Drake or the Weeknd or anybody who has to go across to America to be recognized here. But we’re from here and the talent’s here,” he said.
Dias and his team also want to see a change with the way dark-skinned actors are cast.
“So typically what would happen is they would pick Jayne, a dark-skin lead, but then there had to be someone white or lighter skin tone. I just didn’t want that neither did Joanne or Jayne. So we constantly looked for our Tray, which happened to be Ryan,” Dias said.
The American Black Film Festival, which returned with a hybrid presentation in Miami on Wednesday, runs until Sunday.
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