There’s a little more ego in Toronto this week as swarms of Hollywoodians migrated to our friendly neighbors to the north for the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (a.k.a. TIFF).

The fest kicked off on September 8 with Netflix’s The Swimmers directed by Sally El Hosaini serving as the opening night gala presentation. This is the first fully in-person TIFF since 2019 — when Hustlers premiered and we were all saying Jennifer Lopez was going to get the Oscar for her slayworthy role in the film. Well, at least she’s back with Ben.

It’s good to feel the energy of TIFF again as it is one of my favorite fests, but since it’s been a minute, the fest is sputtering a little bit before it finds its rhythm again. Talking to other journalists and attendees, many are commenting how there are so many films overlapping and how many critics can’t make it to films they want to see. Luckily, there are some P&I screenings for us to choose from but even then, sorting out my schedule has been a journey.

On top of the programming complaints, the digital ticketing system at this year’s fest have been a nightmare. In fact, I’m still not 100% sure in how I am supposed to acquire my allotted press tickets for each day. It’s not even worth describing — all you need to know is that it was hella wonky when the fest first started and now it seems to be figuring itself out. However, I just wish they just kept it as paper tickets.

The Woman King Brunch

I started the day with a brunch for The Woman King which was attended by director Gina Prince-Bythewood as well as producer Cathy Schulman and TriStar Pictures President Nicole Brown. The brunch was immediately a success when they placed a bowl of tater tots in front of me. I was very happy with the fried potato product in front of me.

As I tossed back tater tots, I had the opportunity to talk to Schulman, Brown and Prince-Bythewood about the epic story based on the incredible Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. The film, which makes it world premiere at TIFF on September 10 before debuting in theaters across the country on September 16, stars Viola Davis as General Nanisca (Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life. The Woman King also stars Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and John Boyega.

Everyone knows that I love to get people’s takes on diversity and inclusion in Hollywood so I just started running my mouth about the state of the industry when it comes to representation. As I was talking to Prince-Bythewood, I spoke about how I felt that it’s exhausting to be in a challenging DEI landscape of Hollywood and being the legend she was, I asked, “How have you managed to persevere?” and then I just blintly asked, “How did you not give up?”. She answered, “Being an athlete has taught me to fight” and that’s all I needed to hear to solidify my respect for the iconic filmmaker.

The Not-So-Joyous But Brilliance Of Joyland 

I was in awe of Saim Sadiq’s Joyland.

The film marks the feature debut of Sadiq was the winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the Queer Palm at Cannes and stars a phenomenal cast that includes Ali Junejo, Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Salmaan Peerzada, Sohail Sameer, and Sania Saeed. The movie follows a Pakistani family as they confront emotional intimacy and social expectations when their son begins performing with a trans dancer.

As soon as I finished the film, my face melted off and I needed to scrape my emotions off the ground. Sadiq beautifully tackles a menagerie of hyper-relavent issues from gender roles to ageism to transphobia to cultural identity with grace and a gentle hand that still has an enormous impact with its nuance.

By the way: the three leads of the film Ali Junejo, Rasti Farooq, and Alina Khan are incredible.

Andria Wilson Mirza, the director of ReFrame, described the film best when she said the movie illustrates “why gender ruins everything”.

Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection Will Break Your Heart And Build Your Soul

As I write this, it has been about 4 hours since the world premiere of A24’s drama The Inspection directed and written by Elegance Bratton is still floating in my head.

Based on Bratton’s own story, the director made an emotional introduction to the film before it premiered at TIFF. He said that the movie is for those have felt invisible all their life and to know that he sees them.

I about lost it.

Bratton was then joined on the stage by producer Effie Brown as well as Chester Algernal Gordon, Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union, Aubrey Joseph, and McCaul Lombardi.

The film follows a young gay Black man Ellis (Pope) who is rejected by his mother and with little options for his future decides to join the Marines, doing whatever it takes to succeed in a system that would cast him aside. But even as he battles deep-seated prejudice and the grueling routines of basic training, he finds unexpected camaraderie, strength, and support in this new community, giving him a hard-earned sense of belonging that will shape his identity and forever change his life.

Written and directed by Bratton, the film also features Raúl Castillo, Aaron Dominguez, and Bokeem Woodbine.

The Inspection (opening wide November 18) is game changing for the long underrated Jeremy Pope who soars in every single second he occupies that screen. And exact same thing goes for Gabrielle Union: she makes sure you don’t forget about her toxic character that haunts Ellis’s mind as much as she will invade yours. Union is remarkable and it is an absolute pleasure to see her in a role like this. Accolades and praises are long overdue for Union and this may be hers — and Pope’s opportunity for awards season love. Pope acted his ass off and Union did what needed to be done.

Bratton paints a beautiful, personal self portrait with The Inspection. It’s heartbreakingly stunning and I cannot wait to see what this auteur does next.