Student-made film highlights adversity, growing up in Brooklyn

Photo courtesy Mannish Boy Film

Ryerson thesis delves into gritty ‘70s

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By Monika Sidhu

If you take the time to google Mannish Boy, you might find a Muddy Waters song from 1955 in which he sings about a boy transitioning into the role of a young man. If you google Mannish Boy in a year from now, your results may bring you to a film by some of Ryerson’s very own.

“Mannish boy is a coming of age drama that explores the depth of faith and family love in a society where crime rules,” says Ryan Tonelli, the director and writer of Mannish Boy, a fourth-year thesis project undertaken by a group of film studies students.

The film takes a look at Bobby Mayhill, an African-American youth living in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Bobby has to cope with not only the loss of his mother, but also the return of his brother Tommy back home from prison. Without Tommy at home, Bobby has become involved in crime, and must figure out how to get going in the right direction again. “From there it becomes a story where blood becomes thicker than water,” said Tonelli.

The concept for Mannish Boy stemmed from Tonelli’s extensive research into the Black Panther party from the ‘60s and onwards. Tonelli has been working on the script for nearly a year, he said.

“The seventies was a really beautiful time. It was just true-authentic grit,” Tonelli said. “I know a lot of Ryerson students tend to write about pop culture because the modernized story is something relevant to their own lives.”

However, Tonelli said he and the team still feel that the film can reach current day audiences, despite its setting.

“There’s issues of racism and everything that went with the 1970s like police brutality and although these issues have evolved, they’re extremely present in todays society so the story does become relevant,” he said.

The unmade film has reached people already. Community groups such as Jamii and The Esplanade Community Group have taken a liking to Mannish Boy and are helping network the film. The team has also gotten the attention of a Canadian production equipment company, who have been helping the team get the equipment they need to film. Tonelli said the group has also gotten the opportunity to film at Cinespace Film Studios, one of Toronto’s largest film studios.


Photo courtesy Mannish Boy Film

The Mannish Boy team will be building most of their own sets within Cinespace in order to give the film a unique and genuine feel. The team was able to get access to a 1970s police cruiser, a hot dog stand and newspaper stands. The idea is to make the film as ‘70s as they can, and that means avoiding as many current day technologies as possible.

Filming ran from Oct. 25-30, which gave the team six days to get all of the shots they needed. Tonelli anticipates the film will be completed by no later than February.

“I believe if you have the opportunity to make a film you should make it with your whole heart and soul,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done, that’s what the team [has] done.”


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