Poor Boy’s Game
Released in 2007, Poor Boy’s Game is “the first dramatic feature film in Canadian history to take the Black community of Halifax as its focus” (Medovarski, 2009). Starring Danny Glover and Rossi Sutherland (half-brother of Kiefer), the movie centres upon Donnie (Sutherland), a boxer who is imprisoned for severely beating a Black man, and his victim’s father George (Glover). Upon Donnie’s release nearly a decade later, both men must confront the past – and the larger, lingering racial divide epitomized by the tragic act of violence.
Originally conceptualized as a stage production by Chaz Thorne during his time as playwright-in-residence at Toronto’s Cahoots Theatre Projects, Poor Boy’s Game was chosen as a finalist at TIFF’s 2001 “Pitch This!” competition. Though Thorne’s work did not win, it compelled Clement Virgo’s agent (and “Pitch This!” judge) Ralph Zimmerman to connect the two men. After 17 drafts, Virgo and co-producer Damon D'Oliveira met with actor Danny Glover in Los Angeles; with a commitment from Glover, the production secured enough financial backing to proceed.
(For a more fully detailed production timeline, please see Robinson 2007 in “UTL Resources” below.)
While many consider Poor Boy’s Game to be Virgo’s finest feature (Felperin, 2007; Medovarski, 2009), and the casting of Glover was enough to secure a $5.5 million budget, the film struggled to find the success that many felt it deserved. Cultural studies scholar Andrea Medovarski notes two possible reasons. First, she sketches out a general lack of support for English Canadian cinema, “a problem which has for decades plagued a nation which does not even have access to 98 per cent of its own screens as a result of American film studios’ practice of block-booking” (p. 118). Second, she notes the tendency of film critics to position Poor Boy’s Game as a “boxing movie” upon its release – rather than a nuanced study of race and society in Halifax. Medovarski writes, “[critics’] repeated and disproportionate emphasis on sport was one means through which they attempted to minimize the social and political issues the film attempts to address” (p. 117). In other words, viewing Poor Boy’s Game as more than an action movie would require more self-reflexivity about Canadian culture than many critics might be willing to explore.
Yet it seems that not all critics lacked a multifaceted analysis to this film. In Vancouver’s WestEnder, Mary Frances Hill writes of Virgo: “A lesser director may have crafted out of this premise the expected testosterone-laden fare, with every scene little more than filler leading up to the main event. Poor Boy's Game turns out to be less a build-up to a preconceived climax than a fierce portrayal of a man trapped by circumstance, who must take an independent stand within one city's strained social makeup” (2008). In time, perhaps this “fierce portrayal” will reach wider audiences.
Media Commons has in its holdings a DVD copy of this film. Access may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions at Robarts Library. Before contacting us, please check "COVID-19: Updates on library services & operations."
Felperin, L. (2007). "Poor Boy's Game". Variety, Feb. 26.
Hill, M F. (2008). "Virgo rises with 'Poor Boy's Game'". Westender, Jan. 31.
Kennedy, R.M. (2011). "Toward a Cosmopolitan Curriculum of Forgiveness". Curriculum Inquiry 41:3 (June).
Medovarski, A. (2009). "'Boxing Ain't No Game': Clement Virgo's Poor Boy's Game as Canadian Racial Counter-narrative". Topia, 22, Fall.
Robinson, M. (2007). "Virgo thinks globally with Poor Boy’s Game". Playback, Sept. 3.
Conquering Lion Pictures: https://www.conqueringlionpictures.com/poor-boys-game