CANADA: Scarborough (2021)

by Hannah Viana

Please read the crafter statement before watching the video essay.  Thank you.

The film featured in this video essay is the Canadian film, Scarborough. Scarborough is about three kids and their parents living in a multicultural, low-income neighborhood in Toronto. Each family in the film faces struggles that are exacerbated by poverty and crime in their neighborhood. At the beginning of the film, the director highlights this struggle through the film’s camerawork, constantly moving the camera to portray the characters’ sense of panic and establish that these characters’ lives are perpetually unstable (Smith).

Scarborough tells the story of how friendship and community are crucial supports while going through difficult times. The film’s focus on social support systems, specifically a fictional program called Ontario Reads, provides a sense of hope that prevents the film from being “poverty porn”(Smith). The term poverty porn can be defined as “poverty-related advocacy and aid work that is presented in such a way as to exploit the circumstances of those affected for entertainment value”(Griffin). The purpose of the Ontario Reads program is to provide support to families in the neighborhood of Scarborough; “It shows how a cup of coffee passed to a tired-beyond-belief mother can make all the difference in a hard day, and how the joy of singing a happy song on a dingy carpet can offer relief and bring a sense of security for children and parents who are barely hanging on” (McNeely).

The Ontario Reads program helps children learn how to read, allows them to socialize, and eat healthy meals, while engaging parents in this process; Miss Hina, the facilitator of Ontario Reads, “understands that removing the pressure of buying and cooking another nutritious meal is what will allow the parents the time and headspace to be good parents”(Smith). This program also provides donated clothing for the families and gives parents an opportunity to socialize with each other and find a sense of community.

An important message of this project is the importance of providing the kind of support that the low income families in the film need. The opening scene of this video essay demonstrates the socialization aspect of the program, as it shows Miss Hina, the parents, and the children playing with the parachute. The next scene of the email from Jane Fulton, the Supervisor of Ontario Reads, stresses the learning/literacy aspect of the program. Towards the end of this video essay, the scene of the child Laura eating a fruit cup and her father briefly shows the healthy food aspect of the program. These scenes encapsulate the three main aspects of the program and show the positive impact support like this can have on low income families.

The Ontario Reads program is just fictional, but there are similar programs that exist in Canada. Scarborough came out in 2021, during a time where “COVID had forced the closures of so many centres and daycare, in Scarborough and everywhere. This invaluable nurturing, care, and support, by people like Ms.Hina has vanished from the lives of people who needed it most”(McNeely). It’s important for people living in low-income neighborhoods to have a safe space and feel supported, giving kids and their parents a fighting chance. “Scarborough makes a persuasive case for funding at a time when affordable childcare remains a huge issue”(McNeely). In Ontario, childcare costs are very expensive, ranging from $738 to $1986 CAD a month (“Child Care in Canada”). This film shows the positive impact that programs like Ontario Reads can have on a community in need and promotes the implementation of such programs.

The film, Scarborough, focuses equally on the children and parents, and my video essay primarily focuses on the theme of parents trying to better themselves. Throughout the film, Miss Hina holds onto her belief that these parents are not inherently bad, they just need material support. Miss Hina believes in the program, and that these parents can focus on their parenting to make their lives and their children’s lives better.