COMMENTARY: No movie will do the Rob Ford era justice
Tuesday, the centre of the universe, otherwise colloquially referred to as Toronto, got word that former mayor, Rob Ford, was going to be played by Homeland and Billions star Damian Lewis in an upcoming film. It’s an interesting casting choice; apparently, Lewis will be fitted with prosthetics of some sort in order to realistically portray the late mayor.
The unorthodox casting for Ford wasn’t what people were primarily concerned with. Most people opining on the forthcoming movie took issue with the fact that investigative reporter and author Robyn Doolittle had seemingly been erased from the narrative.
WATCH ABOVE: Rob Ford movie casting controversy
As my Global News colleague Chris Jancelewicz has noted, Doolittle’s reporting for the Toronto Star, as well as her book, Crazy Town, were instrumental in uncovering the scandal surrounding Rob Ford’s mayoralty: “The culmination of many journalists’ work, Doolittle eventually became the figurehead of the Ford story. Crazy Town is viewed by many as the essential Ford biography.”
The movie, however, is centred on a bumbling, millennial male entry-level reporter, played by Ben Platt. Platt’s character is working for a fictional paper looking to break the story on the crack scandal.
Many were quick to point out — including Doolittle herself — that it was somewhat odd to have a male lead for this movie.
After receiving a torrent of criticism online, Platt responded:
Additionally, in an interview with the Canadian Press, the film’s writer and director Ricky Tollman made it clear that the movie is in no way meant to be a biopic, or even present an accurate depiction of what really went down during Ford’s last year in office, adding that the Rob Ford character is set only to appear “in a few key scenes and in a few key moments.”
In other words, the movie appears to be a completely fictionalized version comprising imagined main characters, all centered around the very real story of how the mayor of North America’s most boring major city managed to garner the attention of the entire world for admitting that he had smoked crack in a drunken stupor.
There’s a lot to be said about the way female journalists are portrayed in film and television and how this would have been the perfect opportunity for a movie to feature a female reporter who isn’t trying to sleep with a source.
But the ultimate issue with this movie, and likely any future movie that is going to deviate from the reality of what happened, is the fact that the truth, in this case, is so much more remarkable than what any fictionalized version a writer could come up with.
Nobody can truly capture the hours of absolute captivation in this city, as people constantly refreshed their social media feeds and checked news sites every few minutes to gauge if what virtually every person in the city was talking about around a water cooler was in fact true.
Then there’s the issue of how any movie would accurately portray Rob Ford. It’s inaccurate to exclude the homophobia, racism, and brutal bluntness from any memory of him, just as it is to negate the sheer breadth and demographic heterogeneity of Ford Nation. Under Rob Ford, Ford Nation became a multi-ethnic voting bloc that crossed traditional partisan lines, and drew support across the economic spectrum, attracting voters from Bay Street as well as the working and middle class.
Think Rob Ford was a political lightweight? Ask those who had to do debate prep against Rob Ford and they’ll readily tell you what a formidable opponent he was. Yet I’m willing to wager that any fictionalized representation of Rob Ford would feature him as a bumbling, albeit sympathetic, political neophyte.
Killing Transit City and railing against homeless shelters isn’t exactly the political thriller of the year, but those are the types of policy decisions that ultimately rendered Rob Ford a sub-optimal mayor, not the foul language or substance abuse issues. The real Rob Ford scandal, a Conservative strategist used to jokingly tell me, is that Ford’s bad policies were overshadowed by all the political theatrics and drama.
WATCH ABOVE: Councillors share their personal stories of Rob Ford
Any big screen representation of Rob Ford’s mayoralty is almost bound to be simplistically cartoonish. And I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of movie I’m willing to sit through, let alone pay for.
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