Canadian actor duo brothers Stephan James and Shamier Anderson launch initiative to promote black talent

When actor Stephan James won the first Radius Award last year, for being a Canadian making waves in the entertainment industry, the Torontonian said it was a bittersweet honor.

His brother and fellow actor Shamier Anderson presented him with the award at the Canadian Screen Awards and as their family and friends gazed into the audience, James said he realized, “I was probably going to be one of the few. Blacks who were going to get on that stage that night.

“Something about it was just unsettling,” the Golden Globe nominated star of the Amazon Prime Video series Back home said in a recent Los Angeles interview.

“It was unsettling for me, it was unsettling for Shamier. ”

Anderson and James are now taking steps to change that experience of black Canadians in various fields of work – from arts and culture to sports and science.

On Thursday, they launched The Black Academy, a new national division of their non-profit group BLACK Canada (Building A Legacy in Acting, Cinema + Knowledge), which they launched about five years ago as a gala of financing in Toronto.

The brothers are still figuring out the details of what exactly the black-run academy will do.

But they say it will be a permanent year-round operation to honor, celebrate and showcase established and emerging black talent, Anglophone and Francophone, across the country.

“Shamier and I really feel like it was our calling to have this placed on us now, and we’re moving into that calling,” said James, whose film credits include If Beale Street could speak, Course and Selma.

“But the reality is that there has been a glaring gap for a long, long time. ”

Stephan James, who won the Radius Award at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto last year, said it was a bittersweet honor. (Chris Young / Canadian Press)

The initiatives planned at the academy include award presentations, educational programs, community outreach activities and panel discussions.

The overall goal: to break down barriers of discrimination and fight systemic racism in Canada for decades to come.

“This is how you create generational change,” said James. “We are not at the moment. We are black 365 days a year, we live this experience in our own professional and personal life. And so it’s really a place that’s going to exist in the short term. and for the long term. ”

The Canada Media Fund is providing financial support to the academy, through its Black and Colored Sector Development (BPOC) initiative, but the brothers are looking for more corporate partners who share their vision and purpose. mission to combat systemic racism.

“The time has come,” said Anderson, whose credits include the series. Wynonna Earp, the upcoming sci-fi thriller Stowaway and the boxing drama Bruised, which marks Halle Berry’s directorial debut.

“We’ve seen from our American counterparts that they’ve built things like the BET Awards, the NAACP Awards, the Soul Train Awards – and the list goes on. And it’s important that in Canada we now have our platform, our stage, our infrastructure – for us, by us. ”

And it’s important to change the lens in the media, he added.

“If we can have the same love as Ruisseau Schitt happened to the Emmys, which was so amazing, it would be so great to see the next black show now, the next black producer, the next black artist, the next black athlete, ”Anderson said.

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“I was such a proud Canadian when I saw Ruisseau Schitt sweeping, I said to myself “Yes! And now, I can’t wait to have someone who looks like us too. ”

The brothers began to assemble what they call the academy Avengers the board of directors, which the brothers will co-chair.

Board members who have signed so far include: Vanessa Craft, Director of Content Partnerships at TikTok in Canada; Alica Hall, Executive Director of the Nia Center for the Arts; and Wes Hall, founder of Kingsdale Advisors.

Other board members include: Jennifer Holness, President of Hungry Eyes Media; Divya Shahani, Entertainment Lawyer at Miller Thomson LLP; and actress-producer Tonya Williams, founder of the Reelworld Film Festival and the Reelworld Screen Institute.

More than a ‘hashtag moment’

The council was only able to meet by video conference, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the brothers are determined to get started now.

As the world faces a racial calculation in the wake of the George Floyd murder and protests against political brutality, they want to create something that lasts longer than a “hashtag moment.”

“The reality is that we are still breathing,” Anderson said. “We are very lucky. And there are other blacks who are not lucky enough to be alive, even to see the next day, pandemic or not pandemic.

“So that’s why sow this and found that now, get ahead, get ahead of what’s going to happen. ”

Anderson and James grew up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, in a northern community housing project called Bay Mills.

“It was a trying time,” said Anderson of Toronto. “Ten years ago was a very different time in our life. ”

It was an experience they will never forget and that is why they feel responsible for trying to help others now, said the brothers, who are also ambassadors for the Equity and Inclusion Fund at the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

“If we have resistance, given our position in this area, I cannot imagine a little black boy or girl in [the Toronto community of] Jane and Finch wanting to go out, ”Anderson said.

“As Stephan says, sometimes you have to see it to believe it. And that is why the academy is formed. This is why two brothers under 30 form it with a Avenger team. ”

For more stories about the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to successes within the black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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