Shamier Anderson and Stephan James are bringing the first all-Black award show to Canada — and it's about time
The Scarborough brothers are teaming up for a vital new way to recognize this country's Black arts and culture
Update (3/24/22): The inaugural edition of the Legacy Awards will air on CBC and CBC Gem on Sunday, September 25, 2022.
This article was originally published in June 2021.
Canada has a long history of insufficiently supporting and recognizing its homegrown Black talent. A Black woman didn't win a Juno until 1985, when singer Liberty Silver won the awards for both R&B/soul recording of the year and reggae recording of the year — the first time the Junos presented awards for both categories. The first Juno for a rap recording was awarded in 1991 to Maestro Fresh Wes. Seven years later, in 1998, Vancouver-based rap duo Rascalz sparked a contentious yet necessary conversation about the role of Black talent and "urban" music at the Junos when, during a non-televised portion of the show, they refused to accept the award for the best rap recording for their album Northern Touch, citing the Junos' disregard for "urban" music. (The following year, 1999, was the first time that category was presented during the awards' televised broadcast.)
Despite Black Canadian artists dominating global music charts, and the rise of Black Canadian talent in Hollywood, there still remains no space dedicated to honouring Black cultural production here. But that's about to change.
Starting in the fall of 2022, Canadians will be able to tune into our first ever award-show focused on Black talent in film, television, music, sports, and culture. The Black Academy — co-founded by Scarborough brothers and actors Shamier Anderson and Stephan James — will host Canada's first Black award show, to be telecast live on CBC TV and CBC Gem, and already confirmed to run to 2025. The award show will feature presentations, performances, and tributes to Black cultural producers from Canada.
I spoke with Shamier Anderson earlier this week about why The Black Academy is so necessary for recognizing arts and culture in Canada, and the vision the brothers hold for the award show's future.
Huda Hassan: The Black Academy seems to be an extension or division of you and Stephan's organization B.L.A.C.K. Canada. What is it and how did it form?
Shamier Anderson: B.L.A.C.K. is actually an acronym for Building a Legacy in Acting Cinema + Knowledge. B.L.A.C.K. is our not-for-profit that we created six years ago. We started off as a party, an event, and a space to hold for Black creatives during the [Toronto International Film] festival. We created that space to [host a] party on King Street. Six years later, we're now an official event partner at TIFF. We've garnered so much success with acquiring incredible partners, [such as] the Canada Media Fund, to now launching The Black Academy, which is a division of B.L.A.C.K., dedicated to really breaking down barriers.
What we want to do here is really let people know that we want to celebrate, elevate, and inspire both the Anglophone community and the Francophone community of Black talent across this country. It's the first of its kind in Canada — which is bittersweet, because I can't believe it's never existed before, but we're happy to have it. We've got an incredible board of directors, from Vanessa Craft, Alica Hall, Jennifer Holness, Divya Shahani, and Tonya Williams. The impetus of the Black Academy is our long standing commitment to keep ties in our community [and] elevate Black talent in Canada.
HH: You're right — this hasn't happened before. Why do you think that is?
SA: When you want to make change, it starts with one risk-taker. Stephan and I have always been risk-takers growing up, coming from a marginalized community and realizing that we didn't see ourselves on the screen unless you're looking south of the border. We felt, doing what we were doing as actors, [it] was necessary for us to come back and bring [that energy] home. We don't know why [an all-Black award show] never happened before. Systemic racism is a real thing; school-to-prison pipelines are a real thing. There are definitely a lot of other community organizations doing great work within the city. But we feel like this is our lane that we felt that we can conquer and do a really great job at.
My brother was a Golden Globe nominee, NAACP nominee ... I mean, the man is decorated like a Christmas tree [laughs]. We gotta bring it home and show the world what's possible in Canada.
HH: I've never been but have heard your TIFF parties were always poppin. Tell me more about them.
SA: The B.L.A.CK. Ball! We haven't had the B.L.A.C.K. Ball in two years because of COVID. But the B.L.A.CK.. Ball at TIFF is this mystical event ... I'm gonna be real: it was the hottest party during the festival. I've noticed some of these industry events that can be very stuffy at times, you know what I mean?
SA: [They're] not playing our music and not making our food; our people aren't even invited. I was tired of all that. I want[ed] us to be able to get our music, dance the way we dance, move the way we move, eat the food that we want to eat and celebrate unapologetically. Because all jokes aside, in [the other] spaces we feel like we have to sanitize our culture. You know, culturally, we turn up! That was the impetus of that, and then obviously understanding the responsibility and the dire need for something like that. We understood that beyond the party, we needed to do more for our community outside of having a one-time-of-the-year gathering — to create residual impact beyond just "turning up."
That is why we created The Black Academy. We're developing writing programs, panels, mentorship programs, and now the first ever Black award show on the CBC.
HH: I'm excited to see it. What's the first show going to look like?
SA: It's gonna look big, bold, colourful, elegant, classy, [and] cultured. We're going to have presentations, awards, shows, performances, sketches, and a lot of events leading up to the award show. This is going to be something that we're [going to become] used to when it comes to the Grammys, Oscars or Billboard weekend. This is going to be our weekend of Black people.
But I want to stress that this is inclusive of everybody else — anybody can come and watch the show. This isn't exclusive to Black people. We are honouring Black talent, but we want to see the Mike Myers, the Jim Carreys, we want to see the casts of Schitt's Creek and Kim's Convenience on the carpet. We want to see everybody. This is a celebration of a community that's been marginalized over the years, and that's the most important thing. The show's gonna be the first of its kind, and I can't wait to start building it out. We have incredible writers and directors who've done the whole thing. It's gonna be dope.
HH: Tell me more about your team. I know Martha Hagos, your executive director, is someone you and Stephan have collaborated with since 2016.
SA: Martha's really our star quarterback with this. It's important that we have an incredible Black woman leader at the helm. Her expertise and our limitless passion — it's not lost on us. And we're so blessed to have her. [The team is] predominantly women [and it] kind of happened the way it did. Stephan and I come from a single-parent household — our mother's an immigrant from Jamaica — so we only see women bosses in our life. That's all we know. We're the first of our family lineage to be in leadership roles, but it's been women that have been leading the Anderson and James clan.
HH: Both you and Stephan are from Bay Mills. Let's discuss the cultural significance of Scarborough.
SA: There's a Scarborough in every community, whether that be Compton, the Bronx, everywhere.
The media always highlights our traumas, our slips or falls, or shortcomings. And so growing up, Scarborough was always labelled as a community that was at risk, a community that had issues and community poverty. We want to empower the community that we're from.
That was something very important to us: to redirect the power and let them know that Scarborough is a beautiful place, that Bay Mills is an incredible place, and that people from those places are magical; they're special. You don't have to be from Yorkville or Beverly Hills or any of those stops. It was important [to us] to put [Scarborough] on the map and let a little Black kid from the hood know there's a possibility — Stephan did it, I did it, The Weeknd did it.
HH: What do you hope The Black Academy will achieve over the next three years and, hopefully, in the ongoing future?
SA: I love that you said it hopefully goes on. There shouldn't be an end. [We're thinking about] the legacy far beyond if Stephan and I are doing this anymore, if we're not involved in the arts, and if we're retired. We want people to continue this mission — that's the most important thing. We're going to have an abundance of folks from the community we call Scarborough and all across Canada to feel [celebrated] doing their thing. The Black Academy will continue to change the norms, break down the barriers, and create more access to opportunities.
HH: How can people stay updated about The Black Academy?
SA: @BlackIsNowCanada is our social media [across all platforms] and BlackIsNow.com.
The Legacy Awards will broadcast on the CBC on Sunday, September 25, 2022.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories 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.