Published Apr 07, 2016Canada's history is vast and complex when it comes to the black diaspora, but no province has a more fascinating history than that of Nova Scotia. Known as the final resting stop for many black slaves seeking freedom, the small community of North Preston, established in the mid-1800s, subsequently became the largest black community in Nova Scotia — and the basis of Director X's first feature film, Across The Line.
Director X, known for his bright colour-blocking music videos for the likes of Sean Paul, Drake and Rihanna, steps away from the music industry to tell a dramatic story based on the 1989 race brawls that took place at Cole Harbour District High in North Preston, and continue to happen at the notorious high school.
"We've come here by faith," reads a sign in one of the film's opening scenes, a nice cinematic juxtaposition, given the fact that faith has, at times, failed the small community throughout the years when it comes to racial equality. Using Mattie Slaughter (played by rising Canadian upstart Stephan James, recently from Race), a young black hockey player destined for the NHL, as the protagonist, Across The Line harnesses typical teenage hormones and heightens them to tell the story of an impending race-based conflict.
Jayme Crawley (Sara Jeffrey), a bi-racial teenager struggling to find her place in the school's social milieu, offers moments of comfort and softness to Slaughter despite her rigid exterior, while her white boyfriend (Steven Love), a child from a single-income home and whose mother discounts the black experience, finds himself at the center of right and wrong. And as Mattie chases his hockey dreams, like clockwork, violence, police and family issues follow him.
With themes of racial tension, socio-economic frustration and the aching need to escape from the mundane reality of North Preston, Across the Line offers monochromatic imagery with an almost too-simple, and almost predictable storyline for the better half of the film. It's not until Jayme reveals her self-identity issues and the racial tug-of-war she faces that the film sheds its surface-level layers and digs into a deeper, more complex narrative. While the script itself doesn't always highlight the racial struggle, Director X's hidden imagery does; it's in the portrait of Barak Obama in the home of a black Canadian family, the film's black music-centric soundtrack and the progression of Jayme's visibly straightened hair into her natural curls.
There's perhaps an over-simplification of the white characters here, who are not only underdeveloped, but all portrayed as inherently racist, but perhaps for script-writer Floyd Kane, that was the reality of having grown up in the 98% black community. Unfortunately, it makes for an insular, one-way dialogue that preaches to the converted instead of opening up the discussion to those who might benefit from it.
Regardless, at a time where racial tensions in America are overwhelmingly high, Across The Line sheds light on the issue's existence in Canada, as well. While the film doesn't offer any real solutions, at the very least, it begins a conversation on Canadian history that was never taught in school.