At 80-years-old the sharply dressed Winston LaRose is a marvel to behold. Instead of enjoying a relaxing retirement, LaRose can frequently be found in his office within a local mall talking to members of his community. Living in the infamous Jane and Finch neighbourhood for over 25 years, a community whose narrative in the media has been shaped by violence rather than its humanity, LaRose has been the most influential advocate for change in the area.
As one politician remarks in Ngardy Conteh George’s wonderful documentary Mr. Jane and Finch, very few initiatives get done in the region without LaRose’s approval. Inspired by prominent Black leaders in both Canada and abroad, the charming LaRose is the living embodiment of the “it takes a village to lift a community” mentality. Whether it is helping individuals deal with problematic landlords, getting new Canadian immigrants acclimatized to their new homes or providing advice on how to start up programs that benefit parents of children with autism, LaRose has his finger on the pulse of the community.
Seeing gentrification as the greatest threat to the community, LaRose makes the bold decision to run for city councillor for the first time in his life. Much of George’s engaging film follows the 14 weeks leading up to the election and captures the numerous complications that arise. It is clear early in the film that LaRose and his team did not fully assess the heavy investment, both financially and strategically, that one needs to run a successful campaign. Complicating matters further was the last-minute decision by Ontario Premier Doug Ford to decrease the number of Toronto councillors, causing the redrawing of ward boundaries, which unexpectedly pits LaRose against several political heavyweights.
Mr. Jane and Finch is more than a typical David versus Goliath tale. The film forces viewers to reflect on the increasing divide between politicians and the individuals they are elected to represent. It becomes apparent that LaRose cannot simultaneously live in two spaces, the political and the activist realms, if he hopes to win. In order to serve the community as a councillor he must decide if he is willing to turn his back on his daily activist work, the latter of which arguably is more impactful in the long run.
George’s film also does not shy away from addressing the prevailing political and media perception of Jane and Finch and the way it fuels misconceptions of the region. Whether it is one of LaRose’s fellow candidates referring to the inhabitants as “cockroaches”, or the politician who felt he needed to wear body armor while touring the area at night, the blatant racism is symptom of a long-standing media driven narrative of Jane and Finch being a cesspool of violence and crime. Tropes like these ignore the deep-rooted problems of overpopulation and assumes that policing is solution to everything.
It is through LaRose’s winning personality that Mr. Jane and Finch successfully, and seamlessly, touches on numerous issues. George constructs a film that is relevant, sobering and inspiring. LaRose is a reminder that individuals can change communities for the better. One simply needs to have the determination to never give up.