Dufferin-Peel film warns of dangers of gang life

  • April 14, 2009
{mosimage}MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - When gunfire interrupted a funeral and killed Darren Watts’ friend, it was a wake-up call about gangs for the 19-year-old high school student.

“Beware of the company you keep. They can lead to your downfall,” he said during an interview at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic High School in Mississauga.

Watts is describing the message of Mouse, a short film on the dangers of gang lifestyle. He plays Clutch, a fictional gang leader who preys upon a 10-year-old  whom he nicknames “Mouse” and convinces to steal and sell drugs for him and the gang.

“Mouse,” also known as Eddie in the movie, first meets Clutch after Eddie tries to outrun two school bullies who continually make fun of him because of his clothes. Clutch befriends Eddie, offers him money and makes Eddie a promise that the bullies will never bother him again.

Fifteen-year teaching veteran James Flaherty, 44, says this scenario isn’t too far from reality. The film’s writer and director says he was told by a police detective and some elementary school teachers that young students were being recruited by gangs in the neighbourhood.

“Kids are getting younger who are involved and it’s spreading out to areas that are not traditionally associated with this type of activity,” Flaherty said.

He noted that Peel Region had a record 27 murders last year. Many of the murders were reportedly gang related.

Seventeen-year-old student Eldrick Manning plays JP. His character is a gangster with a soft spot for Mouse. He treats him like a little brother.

Manning, who usually plays the role of Jesus in the high school’s Passion Play, says the movie tries to be as realistic as possible in telling the story of gang culture.

“This is real life. We don’t want to make it too fake or gory,” he says.

For Flaherty, JP’s character is a Christ-like figure. He didn’t want to name the character J.C. because it would have been “too obvious.”

“But there’s a sacrifice there,” he said.

JP’s character shows how there are other layers of complexity to the issue, Flaherty continues. With community intervention, JP might have had a chance to leave the gang and be reformed.

“I think it’s important that we fight fire with fire,” Flaherty said, adding that stopping gang violence will mean tackling wider social issues like poverty and hopelessness in youth.

Former chief justice Roy McMurtry was at the film’s first screening. McMurtry co-authored an Ontario government-sponsored report on the roots of youth violence.

“It takes a certain desperation for a young person to walk our streets with a gun,” the report said.

It also noted how racism, poverty, a lack of decent housing and limited job prospects can create hopelessness, alienation and low self-esteem among youth and erupt into violence.

For Manning and Watts, being part of the movie was about helping expose the myth of the gang culture to kids in their neighbourhood who might look up to rappers who glamourize gangs in their songs.

“You just gotta think about it,” Manning said, “and who you want to be for yourself.”

Glancing at the DVD, it’s a message that matches the movie’s subtitle: “Opportunity, use it.”

Copies of the DVD can be ordered from http://www.dpcdsb.org/CEC/About+Us/Departments/PUR/Curriculum+Resources+For+Purchase/mouse.htm.

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