Editor’s note: Bruiser premieres Feb. 24 on Hulu.

The below interiew was published in conjunction with the film’s run last year at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The canon of films that explore and unpack Black masculinity is getting a new addition with Miles Warren’s Bruiser, starring Trevante Rhodes, Shamier Anderson, Jalyn Hall and Shinelle Azoroh.

The 25-year-old director is making his feature film debut with the project, which was swept up by Disney’s Onyx Collective after it premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Onyx Collective is dropping the film on Hulu next year. Bruiser is the feature version of a project that he first began in 19 and would create a short film about.

The film sees Hall portray Darious (Hall), a teen who is learning about himself as he grows into an adult. He has a tumultuous relationship with his strict but loving father, Malcolm (Anderson), but comes into contact with a man named Porter (Rhodes), who he realizes he has a connection with and feels drawn to. When a secret emerges and he gets pulled back and forth between the two men, it throws everything Darious knows into question, including his safety. Shadow and Act spoke to the cast right before the film’s TIFF debut.

On his interest in the project, Anderson told us, “We always see the other side of stories when it comes down to fathers and sons, and fathers not being present. [This is] a story where fathers wanted to be present, and that’s what got me excited. The perspective…you got two dads who come with a decorated past, who have their own individual hardships, but still conquer through love. And Miles Warren, just seeing his visual pen and how illustrates these types of stories and watching his short film, being a fan of his work and this intimate setting.”

Rhodes explained, “I love poetry, and this piece in particular, the poetry Miles has been writing, is a color which I find to be the most interesting–the intimacy of it, but also just the wisdom and just the duality between two characters. It speaks to both sides of my perspective. To have the opportunity to see that really on the page from someone who’s so young, and then obviously seeing his short film and seeing his visual energy and his understanding of art and his understanding of people and the human condition and all these wonderful things, for me, it was the perfect time to really utilize my opportunity to put something under my company with it being the first piece and the piece dedicated to my son. It’s all-encompassing for me.”

“The characters, to me, are everything…like that is the movie,” Warren said. “I think this is a character-driven story. And how [the story differs] depending on who’s telling the story, I think that is the most human thing…people remembering things differently and having a different viewpoint on the exact same thing. Or it’s this idea that you’re suppressing things from your past and not wanting to deal with that. That’s really where I started from.”

Breaking down the two adult men at the center of the story, the director-writer added, “Malcolm is almost like a cliche idea of stepfather– not an incredible relationship with his son but works hard, wants to send his kid to the best school, is very rigid in his thinking, but also can’t really connect with him emotionally. Then Porter is like the opposite. He’s can connect with this kid emotionally, or at least kind of pretends to…depending on how you read Porter. For me, it’s genuine. But he has no plans and he has no solid ideas or plans. That kind of contrast in them I think was really interesting. But then having both of them have the same kind of past, the same kind of anger that simmers and the same kind of trauma they’re both trying to overcome–they just did it in different ways. The whole move, to me, is Porter wanting to repent for all the things he did and Malcolm feeling threatened. And slowly, the two men can’t seem to figure it out and kind of tear each other down. It’s really a tragedy for me for these two men, and then of course there’s Darious kind of stuck between that and trying to navigate what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Speaking about what Darious is going through in the film, Hall explained, “He’s kind of like growing up and learning a lot of things from different people, from different role models, and in my life, it’s really just been like sort of me and my mom. So with him, he has his dad, but it’s not his biological dad. But he’s still learning and wants to have that sort of connection. And then Porter comes along, he’s cool, he’s fun, he’s more laid back and he’s more chill. And then he’s vibing more with him because of his personality. But then, ultimately he kind of like comes into the fruition that, you know, everything that he needed was kind of in himself. He basically taught himself. So I feel like I relate to that a lot because there are a lot of things, because there a lot of things, not even just about the world, but being a man in general that I’ve taught myself. And I feel like Darious is, this was kind of his breaking point where he became the man that he made himself to be.”

The film has an ending that is a bit ambiguous, and the viewer may not know what to make of it. It is in line with the theme of the film differing of whose perspective you are looking at.

“For the two men, I don’t want to spell out what my interpretation of the ending is, but I will say it’s definitely like them failing or the representation of them failing to succeed as fathers [due to their masculinity, their hang-ups and anger],” said Warren. “But for me, I want the audience to align themselves with Darious and what he learned at the end.”

And for what people may take from the film, Azoroh, who plays Darious’ mother, said, “It could be a window for the audience to see how tender these Black men and this black boy can be. And I feel like they expect fighting because it’s called Bruiser and that it is going to be something just like rough [and] hard. There are some really nice moments where you see these Black men and I think it’s very beautiful to have this woman there so that the audience can empathize and come from a different perspective to love our Black men.”

The above interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

S&A: How was your experience on Drag Race overall?

KH: It was magical. I loved it. I miss it a lot, actually, but it was just so freeing, and I felt so supported. I think the whole RuPaul world, they really have like a great system for doing these shows – and a great support system and great crew members in every department. And it just was just like a really joyful experience.

S&A: How did your participation in the show come about?

KH: They just asked me. My manager called me and was like, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And it scared me. But my boyfriend threatened me and said, ‘If you don’t do this, then I’ll break up with you.’ So here we are. 

S&A: Prior to doing the show, what was your educational level or your experience with drag culture?

KH: I’ve been to a lot of drag shows over the years. And I watched the past couple of years of Drag Race. So I was like pretty familiar with it, but I’m like a little late to it all, and my boyfriend is obsessed with it, so he was very good at being able to catch me up to speed.

S&A: What did you learn about it while working on the show? I've spoken to the other contestants who've been eliminated, and a lot of people have said that they didn't realize how hard that whole world was. What would you say was your biggest takeaway or your biggest kudos to that entire world or culture?

KH: I think probably to echo their same sentiment of drag queens have to be good at so many different things. They have to be able to do makeup, hair performance, comedy, wigs – like you have to even to come up with an act or come up with new costumes week in, week out. The amount of things you have to be good at the same time, it seems overwhelming, and I feel like because like we’re so used to seeing good drag now, which is great, but I think it’s so easy to take for granted that like a lot of the time these drag queens are doing all these things by themselves. 

It is still such a gigantic feat because you have people all over the country, all over the world, doing drag in bars and in clubs, and they’re doing this all the time, every day. And it can seem like for us, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is fun and entertaining.’ But it is such an incredible skill set, and an art form

S&A: What do you think contributed to your elimination?

KH: At that point, there were only four of us left. I don’t I’m not sure. I think it was probably my weakest performance. I don’t think my Gaga performance is great. It’s sort of maybe my journey was just complete there.

S&A: And how would you rate working alongside your coaches?

KH: Oh, I loved it. Brooklyn was very, very hands-on and actually helpful watching rehearsal, and giving me notes. That actually changed the dynamic of most of my performances in such a great way, where I was very, very thankful to have her because she’s just so intelligent, so smart and like knows her shit. And it was nice to be surrounded by these veteran, legendary drag queens because you trust what they have to say. And so it was nice not even to have to worry about that. If they say something, just take the note.