Actor Shamier Anderson says 'Bruiser' challenges narratives surrounding Black fathers

TORONTO — Shamier Anderson says “Bruiser” challenges perceptions some may have of Black men and fatherhood.

The Toronto actor says that while the movie touches on several family and relationship-related themes, emphasizing toxic masculinity, which is a small part of it, only overshadows the positive aspects of the film.

“As Black men, Black fathers and Black individuals, we usually are at the brunt of the low-hanging adjectives,” Anderson said. “Aggressive, angry, toxic, as opposed to passionate, loving and yearning to be consoled.”

He says the coming-of-age film is rooted in love with a focus on two father figures and a mother, played by Shinelle Azoroh, who all love their son but are caught in a complicated relationship together.

“Bruiser,” which premiers on Disney Plus Friday, follows 14-year-old Darious, played by Jalyn Hall, who is torn between two different role models. One is Malcolm, his strict but loving father, played by Anderson and the other is Porter, a charismatic drifter, played by Trevante Rhodes. When Darious discovers Porter’s true identity, he finds himself in the middle of a conflict among the two men.

The movie, directed by Miles Warren in a feature debut, first premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Disney Plus Canada says “Bruiser,” which was filmed in Alabama, was acquired ahead of its TIFF debut by Disney's Onyx Collective, which formed in 2017 as a premium content brand for creators of colour and under-represented voices. Hulu in the U.S. is its primary home, however select titles are available internationally via Disney Plus.

Anderson says it's amazing that “Bruiser” became a part of Disney’s Onyx Collective brand and he’s looking forward to many more titles coming into the fold.

“These are the stories I love,” said the actor, who with his brother Stephan James started the Black Academy non-profit and Legacy Awards in Canada, which aim to support young and emerging Black talent in the entertainment industry. “Hopefully they can create more of this.”

Anderson says his favourite part of the movie is when his character, Malcolm, and son Darious are eating Mexican food as Monica gives a violin lesson, and they share a laugh as they hear her student play badly.

“When you see that micro moment of a father and son during a good laugh, that kind of made me feel good,” he said.

He also says Malcolm just wants to do good for his family, but at the same time he only focuses on the present and what he needs to do, disregarding his past.

“We get to see on a microscopic level what these people do day-to-day,” he said. "It's an intimate look inside of a world we barely get to see."

Anderson says despite the film being situated in a small town in Alabama, it carries a universal theme that families can relate to.

“People really do have these family issues when it comes to biological sons, daughters, whoever that may be,” he said. "No one's perfect."

Anderson likens his character to a combination of baking soda and vinegar in a bottle because he's “bubbling consistently.” He says his own upbringing helped relate to the character.

“My actual mother worked 10 times harder to make ends meet being an immigrant woman and trying to do it with a smile on her face,” he said. “And then obviously she would explode sometimes because the baking soda and vinegar has to go somewhere.”

Another approach he took for his character was not getting to know Rhodes, his onscreen rival, off camera. He says not speaking to him as much as he normally would have helped him keep the tension between the two characters alive.

“At the time that we were on screen, I genuinely wanted to knock him out,” he said. “Like, any scene.”

He says he only has love for Rhodes, but the reason Malcolm felt that way whenever he saw Porter was because he felt inadequate in his presence.

He says Malcolm had a history of getting into fights when he was younger, but only resorted to it because he didn't have the words to express how he felt.

“So, he became very physical,” Anderson said.

Anderson hopes viewers enjoy watching the movie, but also to think about the complexity of Black men as fathers and having conversations about it.

“We know those narratives about fathers are usually incarcerated, dead or absent,” he said. “And in this movie, we got two. That’s the narrative that I want people to hopefully talk about.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.

Christian Collington, The Canadian Press