Unarmed Verses shows that Black lives matter

Winner of the best Canadian feature documentary looks at kids in community housing as their neighbourhood is about to be razed


UNARMED VERSES (Charles Officer). 86 minutes. Opens Friday (October 6). See listing. Rating: NNNN


Charles Officer’s CBC doc, The Skin We’re In, covers all the talking points about Black oppression in Canada that Unarmed Verses, a companion piece of sorts, avoids. If The Skin We’re In explains what #BlackLivesMatter is fighting against in Canada, Unarmed Verses simply and affectionately shows that Black lives matter.

The film, which won best Canadian documentary feature earlier this year at Hot Docs, lingers with thoughtful, engaging children in community housing as they compose songs and poetry and gear up for the opportunity to record their music at Apollo Studios – all before their neighbourhood is razed for yet another Toronto revitalization project.

Among the kids are Q’Mal Labad-Workman, a young MC working on rhymes that he can spit to a trap beat La-Vane Kelly, affectionately referred to as LJ, a spoken word poet whose insights sting on a staccato flow and Francine Valentine, the shy 12-year-old at the film’s centre. She’s a hand to hold onto in a community that feels warm and tight-knit, one that defies the stereotypes of “at-risk” neighbourhoods.

Their music doesn’t speak directly to the bulldozers at the gate or the politics stirred up by recent tragedies. Those anxieties hover in the air, and the kids may not yet have the words to grasp them.

See interview with director Charles Officer and some of the Unarmed Verses subjects here

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