The 22 Artists Who Salvaged 2022: Sarah Polley | CBC Arts

Well, folks, here we are — the end of the year. It wasn’t an easy one; in fact, most of the time it felt like everything was on fire. But as we bid 2022 adieu, we want to recognize that it wasn’t all bad. And that was thanks, in part, to some very dedicated people who deserve to be celebrated for all the light they brought us.

Obviously, the people we honour in this project are not the only ones who helped save this year from being a complete write-off. (Want to let us know who you think we should have included? Tell us here.) But because this is CBC Arts, we decided to focus on a few luminous creatives who, through their work in arts and culture, provided some very necessary optimism to people not just in Canada but all around the world.

Whether they were giving us hopeful soundtracks or playing aspirational superheroes or just making us laugh, we just wanted to say: thanks for making our year a little brighter.

Baking Show hosts Ann Pornel and Alan Shane Lewis treat us to a double helping of positivity

For an hour each week, the pair gives us an exceptionally warm escape from the real world

It’s hard to compete with a classic. For 13 seasons, The Great British Baking Show has held us tightly in its doughy embrace and showed us that true comfort is watching a group of enthusiasts bake their hearts out. And when its Canadian counterpart debuted in 2017, it proved that the only thing better than one Baking series is two.

As CBC’s gentle answer to what it would look like if the kindest, most earnest contestants this side of the Atlantic tried their hardest to bake their best (while making lifelong friends in the process), The Great Canadian Baking Show has morphed into the TV equivalent of a bed of clouds. The series’ sixth season created an exceptionally warm, inclusive space to escape from the real world for an hour each week — thanks, in large part, to its hosts, Ann Pornel and Alan Shane Lewis.

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Writers, actors, comedians and alumni of Toronto’s Second City, the pair have hosted Baking Show since the fourth season. Their friendship creates a sense of camaraderie not just between the bakers, but between the judges and those of us watching at home. Plus, they’re just completely delightful and I could watch them forever.

Last November, Pornel wrote about the joy she felt after being styled by Vanessa Magic for her role as Baking Show host. “As a fat, Filipino woman, I know how rare it is to see someone who looks like me on television,” she said. “Fat women are often the mothers, the caretakers, or the comedic relief as the skinny heroine’s best friend. We rarely get to be seen as the object of desire; the pretty one. For the first time ever in my life, in the tent, I get to be one of the pretty ones. I’m eye candy.”

But she’s also far more. In her first episode, she compassionately comforts a contestant we see melting down over a stovetop mishap. She banters with contestants like they’re in on every joke with her, ensuring there’s no moment where they’re not on the same level. And her Instagram is like a fashion show, with wardrobe choices that not only showcase her own incredible taste but also spotlight labels like the Toronto-based “modern Filipiniana” brand VINTA Gallery. Her approach to authenticity and kindness is infectious. (I just want to go to the mall with her.)

Alan Shane Lewis follows suit. While he’s long been a beloved stand-up presence in Toronto, his most recent written work saw him get vulnerable when he spoke about his experiences as a Black man with alopecia — an autoimmune disorder shared by this season’s contestant Chi — and the journey he took to embrace his authentic self.

“This is extremely important to me,” he writes. “Representation. Not just diversity for diversity’s sake, but full-on inclusion. Not just Black pain, but Black joys. Small and large.”

Alan’s essay mirrors the approachability he demonstrates on our TVs every week. There’s no TED Talk rhetoric, no sense of “I have it all figured out now” superiority. Like Ann, Alan leads with sincerity. You get the sense that who these two are on Baking Show is who they are in real life. And in real life, they’re navigating the waters of being people who share their own stories to remind anyone watching that nobody’s alone.

Which is what I hope to see more of in 2023, especially since every day of this year has felt like an exercise in various forms of defeat. That, and another season of The Great Canadian Baking Show, helmed by Ann and Alan. They’ve taught me that we deserve a slice of positivity, powered by the rapport of two funny people I’d like to make my best friends — preferably while we all eat as many baked goods as we can.

Bilal Baig is getting their flowers — and sharing them with trans and non-binary artists everywhere

The creator and star of Sort Of portrays an unshakeable sense of self that feels like a revelation

The film industry is always changing, while paradoxically remaining stubborn and stagnant. But it’s creators like Bilal Baig who continue to nudge the industry forward and out of its comfort zone. As a trans artist myself, I know the challenges in working in an industry not built for us — so I look to Bilal with great admiration for the inspiring strides they have made with their show Sort Of.

Bilal, co-creator Fab Filippo and the rest of their team have reshaped who trans and non-binary characters can be in the TV space. And they have done so not by leaning on tired tropes of trauma, but instead by telling the story of one second-generation Pakistani Canadian nanny with love, honesty and laughter.

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Bilal shines as Sabi on Sort Of. They are biting and rude and funny — but most importantly, they know who they are. They have an unshakeable sense of self, which makes them the heart of the multiple-family ecosystem they inhabit. This in itself is a revelation. Oftentimes, trans characters are seen simply taking — taking support and validation — yet here is Sabi, a giver, who gives just as much support and validation as they get, often giving more than they get.

It can be hard to be the first: hard to find the financing when you have nothing to point to as an example, hard to convince the gatekeepers to unlock the chains, hard to face the stark reality that being in the vanguard means you rarely receive your flowers. So it is a pleasure to witness Bilal receive their flowers over the course of 2022. They have received lilies in the way of 13 Canadian Screen Award nominations, with three wins, including best comedy series. They have received roses in the form of a Peabody Award. And now dahlias have arrived with Bilal’s recent nomination at the Gotham Awards for their performance in Sort Of.

But what is most amazing about Bilal is that throughout all their successes, they share their bouquet with trans and non-binary youth curious about working in film. On Sort Of Season 2, Bilal collaborated with the Trans Film Mentorship and brought on six mentees, forever touching their lives and offering access to the impenetrable film industry.

And so the biggest gift of all lies not in what has been bestowed upon Bilal, but rather, what Bilal has bestowed upon us: a show that many finally see themselves in, a character whose iron tenacity redefines what trans characters can be and a bold new path for younger trans and non-binary creators to follow and be inspired by.

Billy-Ray Belcourt is lovingly lighting a path forward for Indigenous and queer writers

His debut novel A Minor Chorus looks to those whom history forgets or even rejects

The year 2022 might be the year ordinary people proved they were extraordinary. We’ve seen a slew of union organizing remind corporations and governments, both in Canada and abroad, where power really derives: from ordinary people. It seems appropriate, then, that this year, Billy-Ray Belcourt’s debut novel takes a similar approach to achieve its artistic ambitions.

In A Minor Chorus, Belcourt focuses his considerable intellect and careful attention not on historical figures who have changed the course of the country, nor even on people whose dramatic actions might thrust the plot of another book forward, but instead looks to those whom history forgets, even rejects, deeming them so minor as to not even merit a footnote. In doing this, he turns the very idea of the individualistic novel inside out, revealing what really matters: those who make up a community.

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It’s a wonder what Belcourt pulls off in less than 200 pages. The gaze of his unnamed narrator is like a lit hearth drawing each character near, offering safety and warmth as he shines the light of his curiosity on their ordinary lives. And the more the protagonist carefully, kindly coaxes out of them, the more thoroughly Belcourt destroys the idea that any person should be considered “minor.”

Sure, history shapes individuals, and individuals shape history, but that doesn’t mean the people whose lives don’t get written about are any less important. Amid the historical moments, we have all those little in-betweens, which many may not consider worthy of artistic or intellectual exploration, but which give each of our lives meaning and texture, beauty and despair. It’s the in-betweens, Belcourt reminds us, that ultimately make up the bulk of our time here. Shouldn’t we honour that?

It’s almost hard to believe that Belcourt’s first book, This Wound is a World — which won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2018 — came out only five short years ago. Since then, he’s released another book of poetry and a nonfiction book, both of which have gathered award nominations and rave reviews. Given the beauty and brilliance of the novel, it’s no surprise A Minor Chorus has continued this tradition, being longlisted for this year’s Giller Prize.

But in the end, the importance of Belcourt’s work is not in the awards or reviews — it’s in the paths he’s purposefully, lovingly forging in literature for Indigenous and queer folks. The beating heart of all of his work has always been Indigeneity and queerness, and as he bursts apart what we’ve thought of as Indigenous lit, or queer lit, or both, completely exploding and reinventing entire genres, he is lighting and leading the way for generations to come.

When one of the interview subjects in A Minor Chorus asks the narrator what his book is about, he pauses. “I intend it to show that the disregarded sometimes live the most remarkable lives, but there’s so much we have to unsee to see that in its entirety,” he replies. “I hope I know how to.”

By the end of A Minor Chorus, it’s clear Belcourt does, and has.

Carly Rae Jepsen soundtracked our loneliest times and made our 2022 So Nice

On her sixth album, she embraced being a work in progress (and created a TikTok trend, too)

A decade since “Call Me Maybe” first turned Carly Rae Jepsen into a viral sensation, 2022 proved that she remains one of pop music’s most reliable balls of light.

The 37-year-old spent the greater part of the year rolling out her sixth album, The Loneliest Time, which merges the bigger pop sound she’s best known for with a noticeably more blissed-out, meditative one. The project first started to take shape in the early months of the pandemic. It was inspired by what Jepsen has called the “extreme human reactions” that loneliness can whip up. But while there’s plenty of vulnerability and even heartache to be found on the final product, nothing about it leaves the listener feeling grim — perhaps just stunned to hear a couple of their sleepless nights turned into synth-pop. (It says a lot that the star has been promoting the album via her So Nice Tour, named for one of The Loneliest Time’s more starry-eyed love songs.)

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Jepsen has always been uniquely good at making earworms for hopeless romantics, typically writing more than 100 songs before whittling them down to an album. For this one, she held “listening circles” to prioritize the tracks that fans were most likely to see themselves in. She often uses words like “conductor” to refer to her role as an artist — the focal point, sure, but someone primarily there for others’ joy, connection and catharsis. This is borne out by the album’s title track, for which she and Rufus Wainwright staged a ‘70s-inspired getting-back-together fantasy for the music video, complete with a Méliès-esque trip to the moon and one of the most mesmerizing bridges in recent memory.

Just ask TikTok, where said bridge has united everyone from university students to bad texters to Reese Witherspoon. Jepsen took the year to slowly but steadily embrace the platform herself, giving fans glimpses of life on the road and even hopping on her own viral audio trend. “I feel like a grandma in this business,” she recently admitted to Wainwright (who offered helpfully that he briefly ceded control of his own account to his preteen daughter). It’s a wonder that the two Judy Garland admirers had never connected prior to their duet; or as one fan commented on a TikTok video of them sharing the stage in Los Angeles, “The duo I didn’t know I needed in 2022.”

As a whole, The Loneliest Time isn’t ceiling-to-floor escapism, nor an extended therapy session — more like little heart pangs on the dance floor. And so much of the album and its promo cycle wouldn’t work in the hands of an author more afraid of coming off hokey (see: “Beach House”) or publicly appearing like a work-in-progress. Jepsen’s project made the welcome case this year that you don’t need to have everything figured out or to have smoothed off all of your rougher edges to be hopeful or brave — or as she might say, to surrender your heart.

Brightly, courageously and gloriously — Devery Jacobs’ heart never fails to shine

On the screen and the page, her deep sense of care always illuminates the work

Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs is one of one. I have never met anyone like her. And I deeply doubt I ever will.

In late 2016, brought together by mutual friends, Devery and I met for the first time at a coffee shop in Toronto. Sitting in the heart of the beloved Village, I shared my early idea for what would eventually become This Place, the feature film we spent three years writing together alongside our dear friend Golshan Abdmoulaie. From our first conversation, her kindness felt palpable, like a deep and tight embrace.

Every single time I reflect back on that fateful meeting, I feel a wave of awe and gratitude wash over me. A steady wave, full of overflowing joy, which feels like being bathed in love.

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In life, there are moments when you know you are meeting someone who will change your life forever and for the better. Deep in my bones, I felt that with Devery on our first day together. I still feel this way, as her presence continues to hold the promise of all things beautiful in this mad world. Through our journey together so far, we’ve grown from strangers to collaborators to the dearest of friends. In every moment together, she is present, consistent and thoughtful. Sharing time, space, and energy with her feels like nothing else. It is a privilege of my lifetime to be witness to her from up close.

I tell anyone who will listen that I have never met anyone like her. Too few people in our industry share her shining spirit and kind heart. Talent she possesses in spades; we see it every day, both in front of and behind the screen. From her breakthrough role in the late Jeff Barnaby’s powerful Rhymes for Young Ghouls to the game-changing FX series Reservation Dogs, Devery pushes boundaries and proves there are no limits to what you can do. But it is her integrity, care and honesty that are truly unmatched. Her heart never fails to shine — brightly, courageously and gloriously. She has taught me so much simply by being herself.

In her novel Beloved, the late and incomparable Toni Morrison writes: "She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.” I know this type of rare friendship with Devery. Not only does she help gather my mind, but also my heart and my spirit. In this wild and chaotic world, you can almost forget what it feels like to experience a heart as pure as hers. And I believe anyone who knows her and witnesses her work can feel the magic of her love. We are so blessed that she's chosen a life that allows her to share herself with us in the ways she does. This world is only made sweeter by a soul like hers.

Sobey-winning artist Divya Mehra doesn’t just talk about action — she takes it

The multidisciplinary artist wraps razor-sharp commentary in a comical package

Is there a Canadian artist more badass than Divya Mehra? And is there one who’s simultaneously funnier? I mean, who else has successfully pulled off the reverse Indiana Jones — returning a looted statue to its home, leaving just a bag of sand in its place?

The work of the Winnipeg-based multidisciplinary artist appears comic and playful, but its message is always urgent and razor sharp, reflecting on complicated subjects like race and marginalization, the mythology of Canadian multiculturalism and the legacy of colonialism. For Mehra, a joke opens the door; it helps ease the discomfort. And during times like ours, when the most dire discussions may also be inconvenient and uncomfortable ones, the artist’s knack for delivering tough truths is powerful.

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“She creates deeply layered, abstracted social commentary, packaged in a seductive or humorous exterior that disarms the implicit bias and defense mechanisms of its viewers,” writes MacKenzie Art Gallery director and CEO John Hampton (no relation to the author), who curated the artist’s landmark exhibition From India to Canada and Back to India (There is nothing I can possess which you can not take away).

This year, Mehra won the $100,000 Sobey Art Award, the country’s most prestigious art prize. A selection of her recent work, alongside that of the other finalists, is currently on view at the National Gallery of Canada. The exhibition includes a few of Mehra’s biggest hits — like the Taj Mahal bouncy castle, which considers how the image of the 17th-century Indo-Islamic mausoleum has become a cartoonish and problematic emblem for South Asia and the whole South Asian diaspora.

Near the inflatable marvel, a stone pedestal holds a small leather bag filled with sand. Though the installation may look modest by comparison, it is, in my estimation, one of the most significant works of art made in Canada in this generation.

Preparing for an exhibition at Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery in 2019, Mehra discovered a misidentified 18th-century stone figurine from India within the museum’s permanent holdings. She learned it had been stolen by the museum’s namesake, Norman MacKenzie, for the collection that would found the gallery. Mehra endeavoured to have the object repatriated — and, in a rare twist, the gallery agreed. So the idol returned home to much fanfare and was reinstalled at a temple in Varanasi, India, in November 2021. The artwork representing this incredible saga, titled There is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away (Not Vishnu: New Ways of Darśana), references the famous opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark — except where Indy’s decoy failed, Mehra’s succeeded.

​​Art often talks a big talk about effecting change in the world — but here’s an artwork and an artist with undeniable results. Mehra makes tangible work from the project of restitution. She shows what all museums, as colonial institutions, ought to be capable of.

Of course, she’s since set her aims even higher. Mehra’s latest work at the Sobey exhibition features a postcard from the National Gallery of Canada gift shop. The postcard bears an artwork by Lawren Harris, whose unpeopled landscapes can symbolize the colonial project here in Canada. Addressed to King Charles III, it asks him to return to India the Koh-i-Noor, one of the world’s largest diamonds, which is currently set in the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

From her desk on stolen land to the mailbox of the looter. The work is quintessential Mehra. It doesn’t simply wish for justice — it demands it. After all, she’s proven before that a deft hand can make it happen.

Turning Red director Domee Shi is a hero for the ‘nerdy girls’

The first woman to direct a Pixar feature, Shi brought Toronto’s Chinatown to audiences around the world

When Domee Shi won the Oscar for Bao, the beloved 2018 Pixar short about a mother’s love for a sentient pork dumpling, she wasn’t even 30 — but the Scarborough-raised filmmaker was already thinking about the next gen of storytellers. Within seconds of taking the stage, Shi had a message for the kids watching at home: “To all of the nerdy girls out there who hide behind their sketchbooks,” said Shi, “don’t be afraid to tell your stories to the world.”

It’s advice that’s served Shi well as she’s climbed the Hollywood ranks, from Sheridan College animation grad to Pixar’s latest VP of creative. And the particulars of her own nerdy girlhood inspired this spring’s Turning Red, a feature that may take her back to the Oscars in just a few months’ time.

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Co-written and directed by Shi, the movie’s a coming-of-age story that was reportedly pitched with this astounding log line: “a Chinese Canadian tween undergoes magical puberty and turns into a giant red panda.” Set in the Toronto of Shi’s Y2K-era youth, much has been made of the hometown Easter eggs strewn throughout the picture: bagged milk, Daisy Marts, clanging TTC streetcars.

Dropping a major motion picture in Toronto is no small thing; Turning Red is the biggest Hollywood offering to be set in the city since 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And perhaps more notable still, the movie follows an ordinary (if somewhat superpowered) Chinese Canadian family at a time when anti-Asian violence has been on the rise. As Shi told Toronto’s NOW Magazine in March, that’s made the film’s Asian representation especially significant, and she feels a responsibility to capture her community through her work. It’s in all the little details of Turning Red, she told the outlet: someone cooking dumplings in the background, a Cantonese soap opera playing on TV. And the specificity of Shi’s storytelling — the autobiographical quirks, especially — make Turning Red unlike Pixar fare that’s come before.

Told with a frenetic sense of humour (more than a little reminiscent of Sailor Moon), Turning Red is absolutely from the mind of a former anime club vice president (as Shi is). Main character Mei? She is 100 per cent that dork Shi saluted at Oscars. The kid has her own sketchbook (it’s full of mer-hunks), and she hides it under the bed. But the most important thing in her life, outside of family and friends, is a (fictional) boy band called 4*Town. It’s one of the details of the film that feels like a true celebration of girlhood: loving something in a geeky, Kaiju-sized way, and bonding with other kids over it. It’s a side of growing up that’s all too often dismissed as pure cringe, but Turning Red celebrates it — and the movie is more endearing for it.

Shi closed her Oscar speech by acknowledging the risk that goes along with putting your story out there. “You’re gonna freak people out,” she said, “but you’ll probably connect with them too, and that’s an amazing feeling to have.” Though the pandemic kept it from seeing a cinematic release, Turning Red definitely connected with its audience, nerdy girls and otherwise: within a week of its March premiere, it became the most-watched movie in Disney+ history.

Fatuma Adar is musical theatre’s new whiz kid — but she doesn’t want to be a unicorn

After winning hearts and a Dora Award, she’s ready to spread the love

Here's my dilemma: how do I celebrate Fatuma Adar, who called the idea of Black excellence a scam in her musical comedy She's Not Special, without using the word “excellence”?

"There are the perks of being perceived as 'excellent,'" Fatuma says with air quotes as we speak on Zoom. Even over a video call, I sense I am in the presence of someone who is about to be one of this nation's most celebrated writers. But Fatuma takes the accolades with a grain of salt.

“You get put in this tailspin,” she tells me. “Where are my points coming from? Are they coming from the fact that I am a Black Muslim woman? Or is it because of my artistry in general? And it's hard because I am not the one who gets to make those decisions, so I just have to navigate the in-between."

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Spoiler alert: it's because she's so damn talented. And I'm talking winner of the 2022 Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding new musical for her musical Dixon Road kinda talented. With book, music and lyrics penned by Fatuma herself (no big deal), Dixon Road is about a Somali family who immigrates to Canada in 1991 and struggles to find a sense of home and purpose in a Somali community close to Pearson Airport. Couple this with February’s She's Not Special, which was hands down the very best online theatre pivot in the history of online theatre pivots (in my humble opinion), and you've got yourself one powerhouse of a theatre creator.

A musical response to the pressures of representation and Black excellence, She’s Not Special gave audiences sincere laugh-out-loud moments and inspired NOW Magazine's Glenn Sumi to gush, "Give this multi-talented artist a Netflix special already." Hard agree. As extraordinary as she is, however, Fatuma doesn't want to be a unicorn. One of the things that blows me away about her is her generosity to emerging artists. She even included her personal email address below her writer's note in the Dixon Road programme with a note that read: "P.S. If you're Somali and interested in creating musical theatre … ask me anything, I would love the company." That's what I call paying it forward.

“In theatre, I need you just as much as you need us,” she explains. “Whether you're onstage or backstage, I want to know you, because then it will make things easier for everyone who comes after.”

I can't agree more. As an artist who knows well the feeling of being the only racialized person in rehearsal, on funding juries or on a bookshelf, blazing a trail is only as important as making the trail easier to tread for all those who follow.

“The more of us there are, the less pressure there is for one person to 'get it right,'” she says. “To me, that sounds like an exciting future."

Gurdeep Pandher is Canada’s favourite bhangra dancer and all-purpose good vibes ambassador

The Yukon-based dancer took his mission of joy, hope and positivity on the road in 2022

Gurdeep Pandher has figured out something very important: people like bhangra. Bhangra spreads joy. Which makes sense, since the traditional Punjabi harvest dance — which has since grown and expanded into a competitive dance style and a lucrative recording industry — was created as an expression of joy and gratitude.

“It is the traditional folk dance of Punjab, performed after harvesting the wheat crop in April,” he told CBC Arts earlier this year. “In Canada, I think we harvest the wheat crop in fall, but over there we harvest the wheat crop in April. So people started dancing bhangra to express their joy and also to express their gratitude to the land for providing the bumper crop.”

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Since he started posting his dance videos in 2016, the Punjab-born Yukon-based teacher, author and dancer has become a sort of all-purpose good vibes ambassador. He’s now a ubiquitous figure on the Canadian cultural landscape, dancing bhangra with minor hockey teams, performing to traditional Indigenous drumming, creating bhangra-Celtic dance fusion and teaching the dance to members of the Canadian Forces.

But this year, he took it to a new level. On his Joy, Hope and Positivity Tour, Gurdeep travelled across the country by van, posting a new video every day and performing in iconic Canadian locations, including Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia, the CN Tower in Toronto and Whistler, B.C. He also held public outdoor events, led dance workshops at schools and just generally brought the joy of bhangra to folks who needed it.

And speaking as folks, we do need it. We’ve been living through scary, weird times over the past few years. We’ve been isolated from each other for more than two years, and it’s left a lot of us stuck inside our own heads. We need something to help us connect — to each other, to our communities, to our own bodies. We need joy. We need to get together with people from different walks of life and remember the things we have in common, like a need to celebrate, a need to move. We need bhangra to heal what ails us. We need Gurdeep Pandher.

Hannah Traore is the buzzed-about Canadian gallerist whose success is built on paying it forward

The young curator opened her own gallery in New York to champion marginalized artists

When it comes to a truly unsalvageable year, how quickly we forget the trials of 2020: the fear, the Purell shortages, the complete and utter uncertainty. In March that year, countless folks were forced into sudden unemployment, and among them was Hannah Traore, a transplanted Canadian who’d been working as an installation co-ordinator at the New York branch of the famed photography centre Fotografiska. It was an enviable gig, especially for a recent art history grad (Skidmore College) — but as the much-covered origin story goes, when Traore was served her COVID-19 pink slip, she plotted her bold next step.

The dream? To have her own gallery. And this past January, she made it happen, launching her eponymous art space on New York’s Lower East Side. Vogue turned up for the opening. Feature write-ups in Kinfolk, W Magazine and The Cut shortly followed, suggesting the born-and-raised Torontonian was a bona fide “It Girl,” or to quote Vogue’s headline, a “rule-breaking downtown gallerist with style to match.” She was only 27.

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But Traore has salvaged more than her own pandemic flop era. All the media chatter she’s generated is buzz that she’s paying forward, getting eyes on the artists she champions. The Hannah Traore Gallery has a stated mission to prioritize folks who’ve been sidelined from the art world: artists who identify as BIPOC, queer, women, immigrants.

In interviews, Traore often mentions how she straddles several identities herself: Black, white, Jewish, Muslim. The immigrant experience is another she relates to; a Canadian living in the U.S., she grew up with a dad who emigrated from Mali. And from where she stands, for all the organizations who’ve made room for marginalized voices — especially following the summer of 2020 — many would seem to be merely virtue signaling. Artist rosters might be getting more diverse, but where’s the diversity of subject matter and mediums?

“A lot of artists of colour are forced to work with gallerists who see them as their ‘woke ticket,’” Traore told Vogue in February. “Artists of colour are so often forced to talk about their race or identity in their work, or else it’s not considered ‘viewable.’ I’ve spoken to many artists who feel like no one cares about their work, because you can’t tell that they’re Black.”

Isolde Brielmaier, the deputy director of the New Museum, and a woman Traore has repeatedly referred to as a mentor, praised the gallery’s mission in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “[Traore’s] vision for her space is also really blurring boundaries,” she says. “It's a gallery, it's a project space, it's a gathering space. It's really a nexus for all of these different things to intersect and bring people together to exchange ideas.”

“I don’t think you’re ever ready to do something like this until you just do it,” Traore told W in a February interview. “But I was bursting at the seams to do what I wanted to do.”

Iman Vellani became a real-life superhero for brown girls everywhere with Ms. Marvel

Her Disney+ series offered South Asians and Muslims the kind of authentic representation they almost never see

It took all of five minutes of the first episode of Ms. Marvel for me to know Iman Vellani had created something special with her onscreen debut as Kamala Khan, a Pakistani American teen who discovers she has superpowers.

In a scene where she takes her driving test, Kamala, wearing a necklace that bears her name in Arabic, says “Bismillah” before starting the car — a gesture intimately familiar to every Muslim (the Arabic phrase translates to “in the name of God”) that’s rarely ever heard in a positive context in Hollywood.

The test? She fails. But the moment itself signals the authenticity that defines Ms. Marvel, with Vellani’s endearing presence in the driver’s seat.

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At the heart of the show, Vellani’s Kamala is an Avengers superfan with a particular love for Captain Marvel. While she idolizes these larger-than-life beings, her own reality feels vastly different as she struggles to fit in at school and balance her own cultural identity growing up in Jersey City. All that is further complicated when Kamala discovers her own superpowers. The coming-of-age tale is a classic hero’s journey applied to a character who, at the outset of her own story, says: “It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world.”

This summer, Ms. Marvel became my Pakistani Muslim family’s weekly tradition for its six-week run. Every Wednesday morning, my father would remind my mother that a new episode had dropped and that we had to watch it that very night. (That, coming from someone who usually couldn’t be convinced to sit through 20 minutes of a superhero movie, was a shocking thing to see.) My parents would sing along to all the classic Pakistani songs, like “Ko Ko Korina,” that were featured. We’d laugh at the eerily spot-on jokes about growing up in a Pakistani Muslim household (like the introduction to the “Illuminaunties” at a community event). My brother would exclaim at least three times an episode, “How is this show real?!”

For the first time in our lives, my family looked at the TV screen and saw ourselves looking back — our stories and lived experiences somehow playing out on a show on Disney+. And each one of us, in one way or another, found bits and pieces of ourselves in Vellani’s Kamala.

As she said in an interview with Q’s Tom Power, “Specificity is representation.” She explained, “When you see the ‘brown best friend’ or the ‘Black best friend,’ they're generalizations of cultures. It doesn't really feel like you can ever relate to these people because they're never fleshed out. They're just there for representation and to make it look diverse, but it's not real.” Kamala, on the other hand, feels real — in a way many South Asians and Muslims have never experienced before.

Vellani's portrayal of Ms. Marvel was a highlight of my 2022 and a landmark moment in showing how Muslims and Pakistanis can and should be brought to life onscreen. It’s a performance that made the little everyday moments from my own life — like saying “Bismillah” before starting the car — feel universal, not confined to my own existence. As Ms. Marvel, Vellani carved out a place for people who look and live like me in the larger-than-life world of superheroes, making me feel like this brown girl from Canada can be super, too.

Joni Mitchell forever: The beloved singer made us all less blue with her first concert in 20 years

After suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015, she re-learned how to play guitar by watching videos of herself

I was a teenager when I fell in love with Joni Mitchell’s music, listening to “Blue,” “Both Sides Now,” “A Case of You,” and “River” on repeat. Being a teenage girl can be a lonely thing, and Mitchell’s songs were a port in the storm, because she was singing from inside the storm. She understood the messy business of living, and she never turned away from the complexity of an abundance of feelings and desires. Instead, she created from the chaos, often crafting very spare songs, bracing in their beauty and nuanced observations.

Mitchell’s songs cracked open the rock canon thanks to brilliant lyrics, impeccable songcraft, and distinctive tunings and guitar work. In making space for her experiences, Mitchell also helped make space for other women. This past year has been a real testament to not only the scope of her influence but also how other women musicians are circling back around to ensure Mitchell gets her flowers for a comeback that was never guaranteed.

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In March 2015, Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm, and her recovery has been years in the making. She regained her speech and the ability to walk, and, eventually, relearned how to play music, too.

She agreed to write a short foreword to my book Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography in 2018, and this past February, she participated in an in-person, on-camera interview for the 2022 documentary, Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On, on which I’m the co-writer and associate producer. In her foreword to my book, Mitchell wrote about how important Sainte-Marie was to her early success, carrying Mitchell’s demo tape and “playing it for anybody who would listen.” My teenage self never dreamed I would be within one degree of separation from Mitchell, and as a feminist, the story of her and Sainte-Marie’s lifelong relationship has been everything to me — not just because these women made space for one another, but because they’ve paved the way for a new generation of women to pay it forward.

I didn’t know if Mitchell would ever return to the stage after her aneurysm. So it was an overwhelming delight when videos began circulating of Mitchell’s surprise performance during the Brandi Carlile & Friends set at the Newport Folk Festival this past July. It was her first concert in 20 years, and her first time back at Newport since 1969. She ended up playing a 13-song set backed by a number of musicians, including Carlile (who has been instrumental, pun intended, in supporting Mitchell’s recovery), Allison Russell, Wynonna Judd and Marcus Mumford. According to Carlile, none of the musicians onstage knew that Mitchell was going to do a full set, never mind sing lead throughout and play electric guitar at one point, which Mitchell re-learned by watching videos online of herself playing.

I’m excited about what’s to come for Mitchell, and I’m so grateful to have witnessed her return to form in numerous ways this year. I’ve returned to the Newport Joni Jam videos a lot, and I tear up every time. In the face of awful, hateful, frightening, everything-is-doomed news, hope is a necessary and sacred thing. Joni Mitchell forever.

In 2022, Kent Monkman went legendary with a celebration of the spirit that survived colonization

His ROM solo show Being Legendary brings an incisive eye to the story of Indigenous knowledge across time

In recent years, I’ve seen the work of Cree visual artist Kent Monkman hanging in massive scale at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (the largest art museum in North America) and also in a smaller display at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That his work — richly coloured realism paintings that depict scenes reminiscent of world-renowned European history paintings, but from the point of view of Indigenous peoples — fits comfortably within both of those institutions speaks to the space he’s carved out in the art world.

Few artists have the impact and vision that Monkman does, with an incisive eye set on flipping colonial narratives. In his paintings, installations and performance art, he transforms into his gender-bending alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Though his output is sometimes tongue-in-cheek, it is often deadly serious about correcting the historical record.

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From the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba to the world, this year the artist’s work came back to Canada for one of his biggest moments yet: a major solo exhibit at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.

The artworks in Being Legendary range from paintings and sketches to meteorites and fossils. The ROM also gave him access to their archives and collections, several pieces of which are brought into the exhibit in conversation with the Monkman-made pieces. Together, they celebrate Indigenous knowledge — an understanding of culture, language, the land and stars — and ambitiously cover a time span from Earth’s creation to today.

When I spoke to Monkman about the exhibit for Maclean’s earlier this year, he told me: “The colonial period represents a very brief sliver in this long timeline of how long we've been here, yet it has been so devastating and created a lot of harm and trauma in our communities that we're still healing from.” In contrast to this very brief sliver in time, Being Legendary starts at the beginning of creation, with Miss Chief falling from the sky. She is the visitor’s guide to the exhibit, as her words narrate each piece in English and Cree.

Moving through Canada’s largest museum, pieces show mythical beings, known as mîmîkwîsiwak (the Little People), hanging around a mastodon bone; fossilized versions of Miss Chief’s platform heel; and a child in buckskin learning how to hunt with Miss Chief. One of the most moving pieces is The Escape. Its foreground shows the child who was previously seen hunting now hushing mîmîkwîsiwak as they hide in the tall grass, while in the background, a stern RCMP officer and a distraught woman point off-canvas toward, presumably, the location of the Indigenous children. It’s the reverse of Monkman’s 2017 painting The Scream, which depicted priests and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pulling small Indigenous children away from their distraught parents — scaled down to show the emotions of the child and the Little People.

The final pieces of the show feature individual portraits of those who are keeping that knowledge alive, like Elder Pauline Shirt and star story expert Wilfred Buck. It’s a celebration of the spirit that survived despite colonization. Monkman’s message is clear: We are still here, and we are legendary.

To the nearly impenetrable fortress of Canadian media, Lido Pimienta is an earthquake

After conquering the music world on her own terms, Pimienta turned her seismic energy toward TV

One thing is certain: you underestimate Lido Pimienta at your peril.

A self-described “Afro-Indigenous-Colombian-Canadian-punk-folklorist-traditionalist-transgressive-diva-angel,” Pimienta’s lifelong art practice exploded into public consciousness in 2017 when she bested the likes of Feist, Gord Downie and Leonard Cohen to win Canada’s most prestigious musical recognition, the Polaris Music Prize, for her Spanish-language sophomore album La Papessa. She accepted the award by thanking her mother “for being so resilient and for enduring white supremacy in Canada.”

Pearls were clutched and tongues wagged, but something seismic shifted that night as Lido sent her warning shot through the room with a grin. It was the end of kowtowing to patriarchy, whiteness and industry insiders. Lido Pimienta will take your accolades and awards, but she’ll do it on her terms, with no fear of reprisal. A witchy warrior queen was born.

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As her star rose higher and higher on the international stage, her flowers piled up: Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations for her 2020 album Miss Colombia; a spot on former U.S. president Barack Obama's "Best of 2020" playlist; a commission from the New York City Ballet that saw her collaborator, choreographer Andrea Miller, placing her directly on stage in a bright yellow dress instead of hiding her away in the orchestra pit. It seemed alchemically impossible to dismiss her.

Sometimes Lido’s comfort in the spotlight has been misunderstood, her “un-Canadian” naked ambition frowned upon. But these are exactly the systemic mindsets that Lido delights in upending. She’s not cocky — she’s just not surprised at all the fuss. Why should she be? She knows, deeply and intuitively, that she’s excellent at anything she turns her light and energy toward.

In 2022, that energy turned toward television. Lido TV is a truly singular series on CBC Gem that she created, co-wrote, co-produced and starred in. It’s a show that almost dares you to define it: a kids’ show for adults, complete with puppets and songs; part searing documentary, part sketch comedy — but all 100 per cent Lido. With episodes titled “Colonialism,” “Hate,” “Feminism” and “Success,” it’s a labour of love from the depths of Lido’s imagination, carefully coaxed onto the page with writers Sarah Hagi and Tim Fontaine and deftly guided by co-showrunner Sean O’Neill.

The show is beautiful, tender, vulnerable, confrontational and incisive — just like the woman who birthed it. Is anyone even surprised that it ended up premiering at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world’s most venerable stages?

Lido Pimienta is her own country, her own person and her own weather system. She’s a mighty activist. She speaks truth to power. She’s afraid of no one. And she’s just getting started.

Martin Short has been making us all smile for 50 years — and now a new generation knows why

As one third of Only Murders in the Building’s intrepid trio, his star is reaching even greater heights

Steve Martin once noted that the late, great Nora Ephron insisted that Martin Short speak first at her memorial service, ahead of people like Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. The comedian recalls that Ephron said Short was “the best person.”

“Not the best person at something,” Martin specified of Ephron’s words. “Just ‘the best person.’ Period.” It literally does not get any better than that.

But Martin Short is somehow also the best person at lots of specific things as well. Or, at least, he’s the best at being a rare and consistent combination of great things: he has a spotless reputation for being kind and generous; he is effortlessly hilarious in pretty much any context; and he is deeply committed to bringing joy to whoever’s watching him, while always looking like he’s having the absolute best time in the process. Who else can say all that?

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Somehow, though, the Hamilton, Ont.-born Short has always felt just a little underappreciated for much of his career — a career that began exactly 50 years ago with his breakout role in the 1972 Toronto stage production of Godspell that also featured Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber and Paul Shaffer.

In the decades since that now-legendary production, Short has essentially done anything and everything. He helped save Saturday Night Live as a cast member in the 1980s and has been back a zillion times since. He became Clifford Daniels and Jiminy Glick, now both cult movie characters in their own right. He had three different television shows called The Martin Short Show (a sitcom, a sketch comedy special and a talk show, none of which proved successful). He became a fixture on Broadway (winning a Tony in 1999) and was the ultimate guest on talk shows (particularly on Letterman) and popular long-running series of all genres (just look at his epic IMDb page). But such a prolific career has never quite led to the level of mainstream success that Short’s unparalleled talents deserve … until now.

Right when the world needed his joyful demeanour most, Short joined forces with his longtime pal Steve Martin and Selena Gomez to form the unlikely-yet-completely-perfect trio at the centre of Only Murders in the Building. Playing a struggling Broadway director who starts a true crime podcast with Martin and Gomez’s characters, Short’s performance feels like the culmination of so much that led up to it: it’s jubilant, mischievous and, boy, does he ever look like he’s having a blast doing it.

Only Murders in the Building immediately became a huge hit and earned Short his first-ever Emmy nomination for acting in a comedy series this year (which seems wildly belated). Its second season was one of the most anticipated returns of 2022. And it did not disappoint, somehow building on what could have been a one-off premise, while making it even more compelling. The season culminates with Short’s Oliver Putnam finally getting his flowers when he lands the Broadway directing gig of his dreams. It feels a bit like art imitating life — even though, unlike Oliver, Martin Short has never seemed to care too much whether he got his flowers. He just wants to make us smile.

maxine bailey is changing what ‘Canadian film’ means — and who gets to make it

The film exec knows how to open doors for those who might otherwise have been shut out of the industry

Five years ago, long before she brought a major shift to the development programs at the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) as its executive director, maxine bailey was complaining that she was tired of local films about people finding themselves at their cottages. She might as well have gone all the way and said, “films about white people finding themselves at cottages,” because you know those films weren’t typically casting anyone else.

bailey (who stylizes her name in lowercase) was sitting on a panel, hosted by She Does The City and government film funding body Telefilm Canada, in a warehouse on Toronto’s west end. She was speaking to a room full of film industry types who probably owned cottages, or at least had much easier access to one than this urban-dwelling person of colour.

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I loved her refreshingly blunt and cheeky sentiment. I’ve stolen the phrase repeatedly. It spoke to me on a molecular level — and not just because I, too, was bored of all the Canadian films that would retreat into “cottage country.” bailey, who was VP of advancement at the Toronto International Film Festival at the time, was speaking to everything wrong with Canada's underfunded film industry.

Filmmaking is expensive. Any single production commands an army geared up with lights, sets, props, permits and recording equipment. The powers-that-be expect talent, especially those who aren’t white men, to jump through hoops to prove themselves before trusting them with such an investment. Under these conditions, it’s often only the privileged few — who can afford to toil away at apprenticeship programs and gain experience working for almost nothing — who eventually make it.

bailey has taken major steps toward changing that landscape at the CFC, the screen industry training facility founded by director Norman Jewison, where she has been executive director since 2021. Under her leadership — and as the initial step in a strategic plan to democratize creativity — the CFC offset its $8,000 tuition with scholarships, in addition to monthly bursaries for each resident, making its program in 2022 and onwards immediately accessible. According to the Globe and Mail, the CFC initiative is now entirely financed by donors, new and old.

bailey, who spent nearly two decades fundraising for TIFF and led its Share Her Journey program, knows how to find the money to open doors. And thanks to her, Canadian filmmakers who don’t have cottages can find their place at the Georgian Revival mansion where the CFC is located.

The CFC also launched a comedy cohort for Black, Indigenous and racialized creators led by Kim’s Convenience co-creator Ins Choi and partnered up with CBC and the community group BIPOC TV & Film to create a showrunner accelerator program. It’s no surprise that these new programs and institutional changes are the result not of top-down decision-making but of intensive community consultations and the inclusion of groups who didn’t previously have a seat.

bailey has always been that person who had her ear to the ground and made BIPOC people in the industry feel heard and empowered to create practical change. She was always that person I would seek out at industry events, panels or in the lobby at TIFF; someone who I could look to for advice or just a casual catchup and some sense of belonging in an alien place. She was the lone figure working for Canada’s film institutions who I could rely on for some real talk.

I still do.

Nathan Fielder bent reality with one of the year’s best (and most confounding) shows

The Rehearsal’s absurdist take on self-actualization left us with few answers and a whole lot of questions

Can anyone actually salvage a year? Nope. Not possible. But we’d like to believe it’s on the menu, and not just for the sake of a clever editorial package. It’s human nature, that’s all — this weird impulse to force meaning out of chaos. Even when something’s beyond our power, we’ll do whatever we can to feel in control — like everything’s going to plan. What stories do we tell ourselves? What conclusions have we drawn from life’s achievements and disappointments? What lies are we quietly repeating in our brains when the lights go out, trying to make ourselves feel better?

There’s a thread of that idea running through The Rehearsal, the new show from Nathan Fielder. No, I don’t believe a 39-year-old comedian from Vancouver is personally responsible for collectively rescuing the world from the wreckage of 2022, but he has created one of the most thought-provoking shows in recent memory, and that’s worth a spot on this list.

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In its first episode, The Rehearsal reads like a twist on Fielder’s last series (Nathan For You) or even the 22 Minutes sketches that preceded it, with the comedian starring as a version of himself, offering help to real (?) people who’ve inexplicably trusted a stranger with “really good grades.” It’s another reality-show satire, it seems — this time on an HBO budget. Where Nathan For You spoofed business improvement, The Rehearsal takes on self-actualization, and its premise might sound appealing if you’ve ever felt a twinge of social anxiety.

If practice makes perfect, what if you could rehearse every emotionally difficult encounter and every awkward conversation before it happened? Would you be able to predict, and therefore control, the outcome of your life?

For The Rehearsal, Fielder was granted the necessary cash to take that concept to the most literal extremes, building full-size replicas of houses and dive bars, hiring performers — even founding his own “Fielder Method” acting school. But the show quickly shifts its attention from the oddballs purportedly scouted on Craigslist to Fielder himself, who lands at the centre of the show’s most over-the-top scenario: a trial run at parenthood. From a secluded farmhouse in Oregon, he plays dad to a kid named Adam — a role portrayed by a succession of young actors. (The kids are periodically swapped out in service of an accelerated timeline … and various child labour laws.)

“It’s sort of universal that people want to have control over their lives,” Fielder told New York Magazine in a July profile. “There’s something really funny to that compulsion.” And on The Rehearsal, Fielder puts his character at the centre of that cosmic joke, tweaking every variable within his power in pursuit of the perfect outcome. Emotional connection is the big, ineffable thing evading him here — a callback to the finer moments of Nathan For You. And like that show, Fielder seems increasingly satisfied with staged facsimiles of the real thing.

I won’t spoil the details of the season’s final episode, but in the closing scene, as Fielder plays “good” to one of the Adams, it’s murky where his character stands. Has he gone even further into the performance? Or has abandoned this infinity mirror of self-deception, realizing life is meant to be lived in the moment? There are no answers, but with a second season on the way, the questions will only keep coming.

Pierre Kwenders had a historic 2022 by staying true to his roots and routes

He shared his Polaris win for José Louis and the Paradox of Love with the entire African diaspora in Canada

In 2022, Pierre Kwenders became the second African-born artist (after rapper Backxwash) to take home a Polaris Music Prize for his album, José Louis and the Paradox of Love. This feat signifies a new wave of continental African artists contributing to cultural expressions in Canada. He made sure to remind us in his acceptance speech, sharing the win with not only his friends and family, but with the entire African diaspora in Canada.

Born José Louis Modabi in the capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kwenders grew up in a land filled with genre-bending sounds — Congolese rumba, soukous, kwassa kwassa. After immigrating to Montreal at 16 with his mother, he performed with a Congolese Catholic choir. But the city slowly introduced him to its pop, electronic and underground scenes, too. These various influences cultivated the transnational sounds he now offers us in his work.

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Kwenders’ debut album, 2014’s Le Dernier Empereur Bantou, compelled listeners to decipher lyrics about pre-colonial African histories. Since then, he and his glorious Moonshine collective have brought African sounds, cultures and aesthetics to underground life in North America and Europe. Through an underground monthly party, where you must text an anonymous number to receive its secret location, Moonshine has brought African genre-bending sounds to party-goers in Toronto, New York, Paris and Montreal.

But his latest album takes the artist’s knack for blending genres, geographies and styles to another level. José Louis and the Paradox of Love, like Kwenders himself, is deeply diasporic. Lyrics are expressed in five different languages: Lingala, Kikongo, French, English and Tshiluba. It also includes artist collaborations from across the African diaspora — from Santiago de Chile to Kinshasa, Brooklyn to New Orleans, and Paris to Lisbon. The album’s musical textures and essence are fluid, floating us through the corners of Kwenders’ eclectic and colourful world.

Kwenders has reminded us this year how far authenticity can take an artist. He made 2022 better by achieving a historical accolade while remaining authentic to his sound, roots and routes. During his Polaris Prize acceptance speech, we see his body drop to the floor in disbelief, as his entourage applauds behind him. Through his speech, he names his loved ones who transcended. In the months after the album was released, Kwenders has sat with grief. He lost his godfather and two close cousins — three people who were integral to his growth.

“I'm here in front of you because of all those people,” he tells us, before pausing in reflection. The artist is visibly overwhelmed. “This is a story for so many people; so many Africans; so many diasporic African guys, young, girls, whatever, moving here and discovering themselves ... This is my story. This is my African story, my Congolese story, my Canadian story.”

“This is your story, if you want to take it as yours and make it whatever you want to make it.”

Sarah Polley ran toward the danger this year — and got us all talking in the process

Her fearless new memoir and film show the hand of a master artist who understands the power of listening

Sarah Polley gets people talking.

That’s something we’ve seen at every post-screening conversation for her celebrated new movie Women Talking, about Mennonite women debating how they should respond to horrifying sexual violence, as well as at book readings of her incisive, gutting and sometimes humourous collection of essays Run Towards the Danger. Each event reaches a point where someone in the audience responds to the stories Polley tells about assault, exploitation, trauma and healing with the circumstances around their own victimization, revealing something private because they have come to trust that their experience is shared.

It doesn’t surprise me that Polley’s work — which unleashes an avalanche of feelings and conflicts in measured and probing prose — inspires this sort of collective give and take. People open up and make themselves vulnerable because they feel seen and heard. That’s her whole vibe. She’s a listener.

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Full disclosure: Polley and I are friends. I’ve been a beneficiary of her listening skills for years. So have a lot of people who society typically has a habit of ignoring. I’ve also observed very closely how the things she learns are absorbed into the ways she navigates the world and into her work, whether she’s processing her own deeply personal traumas in Run Towards the Danger or collaboratively telling a story about systemic abuse in Women Talking, her adaptation of the Miriam Toews’ #MeToo-era novel.

I remember when the conversations Polley is having didn’t feel safe yet. She first told me stories like this for a NOW Magazine cover story I was working on about her CBC series Alias Grace. She was telling me about Harvey Weinstein and the general industry behaviour he epitomized, but this was months before the New York Times published the allegations against him and pushed the #MeToo movement into the public eye — so instead of feeling empowered, we were afraid we would get admonished for what we were about to print.

It’s been incredible watching how that attitude has evolved, and how Polley processed, championed and even challenged the narrative over the subsequent five years. She would always push conversations about the harm people cause and the appropriate response toward deeper understanding, growth and healing.

Run Towards the Danger and Women Talking, both released this year, feel like an accumulation of that dialogue. They are fuelled by individual and communal trauma. They challenge ideas about justice and reconciliation. They understand the reactionary urge to haul up all predators and just lock them away, while recognizing such a (potentially harmful) fantasy could never be a viable long-term solution. They desperately search for a way to live in the world among people who do harm, while seeking better supports for rehabilitation. They call out the structures that make people vulnerable.

They dare to imagine a better world. And they keep the dialogue going — just like Polley always does.

Shamier Anderson and Stephan James are bringing the legacy of Black art to the whole country

This year’s inaugural Legacy Awards were the latest achievement in their unending quest to uplift Black talent

I could write about Stephan’s undeniable screen presence or Shamier’s singular charisma. I could give you a list of their enviable career accolades or exciting new projects (seriously, I’m very excited about the Basquiat limited series and I’m pretty sure my husband already has our tickets for John Wick 4). But when it comes to these two brothers from Scarborough, the thing that constantly stands out to me about Shamier Anderson and Stephan James is their refusal to take small steps. Instead, they make big moves and take big risks with a confidence and self-assurance that feels like a breath of fresh air in the Canadian screen industry.

It takes boldness to dream up the first-ever televised award show that centres and celebrates Black talent in Canada. It takes nerve to deliver that dream on an unprecedented scale. And it takes courage to ensure that Black folks are at the centre of every element — from the writers, to the directors, the camera crew to the set design and the choreography to the wranglers.

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I first met Shamier and Stephan at the B.L.A.C.K. Ball, an annual private party they throw during the Toronto International Film Festival. It was 2016, my first edition of the festival as someone working in the industry, and most events I attended that year were filled with an intimidating sea of people who all seemed to already know each other, talking over glasses of wine and suspicious-looking hors d'oeuvres.

The B.L.A.C.K. (Building a Legacy in Acting, Cinema and Knowledge) Ball was something else entirely. A meeting ground of Black talent from here and overseas, it simultaneously felt like home and a space of possibility. It was a place where I could see Toronto actor Araya Mengesha rubbing elbows with Moonlight’s André Holland, and watch Insecure’s Y’lan Noel get down to the sounds of local DJ Mr. Akil D. That ability to make something feel comfortably familiar and yet uniquely aspirational may very well be Shamier and Stephan’s superpower.

As their success as actors has steadily climbed, so has their desire to widen the space of possibilities for Black Canadian talent. From the launch of the BLACK Academy to their Instagram account @blackisnowcanada, where they highlight and celebrate the success stories of Black folks across screen industries, they are consistently exploring various ways to elevate and nurture. However, it was in 2022 that this push was made truly manifest through the debut of the Legacy Awards, the first major Canadian award show to celebrate and showcase Black talent.

Attending the inaugural show, I couldn’t stop looking around in wondrous amazement and I carried a sense of euphoria with me for the rest of the week. It was a reunion, an affirmation, a celebration, a reminder and a true game-changer. I can’t wait to see how it grows and evolves over the years.

The last decade has seen the rise of a few Black Canadian celebrities who have climbed to the upper echelons of the entertainment world. But I can’t think of any others who have articulated a vision of success that includes a desire to lift as they climb in quite the same way as Stephan James and Shamier Anderson.

The audacity of Simu Liu: How the Shang-Chi star manifested his own groundbreaking destiny

From tweeting his way into the MCU to winning Jeopardy! and hosting Kimmel, his final form is yet to be revealed

It takes audacity to dream. To visualize something that is not real and summon it to you. To make real a reality that could never have existed and reshape what is possible. This year, we have witnessed how Simu Liu’s audacity has set him off on a trajectory that no one could have predicted — except for, perhaps, Simu himself.

Following a year in which he played the titular Marvel superhero in the massive box office hit Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Liu would release the acclaimed, bestselling memoir We Were Dreamers and be named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2022. His is a career path that has never quite been taken by an Asian artist, let alone an Asian Canadian.

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I remember the first time I saw him, in a 2015 remount of the seminal Asian Canadian play Banana Boys at the Factory Theatre in Toronto. It was in a hundred-seat theatre, and there he was: young, confident … and shirtless. The audacity. I saw him often in those early days of his career, going from theatre to independent films to stock photo modelling, and eventually, observing him on set, performing what would become his breakthrough role: Jung Kim in Kim's Convenience. The series would run five seasons on the CBC (and become a hit south of the border when Netflix picked it up).

You'd think that being in a beloved hit sitcom would be the peak of a career for an Asian Canadian actor. But it was just the beginning. His now-famous tweet to Marvel, saying it was time for an Asian superhero, felt — at the time — like a Hail Mary pass. But, like someone of championship stock, it somehow hit its mark. By articulating his dream, he started making that dream a reality. He started summoning it from the ether. So when he was announced as the lead in Shang-Chi at Comic-Con, we all just had to take a breath and say: "Holy shit, he did it."

OK, so now you'd think that being a Marvel superhero would be the peak of his career, and he could just chill and sip piña coladas by the pool. But again, with each new level unlocked, we see new heights for Simu. His final form has yet to be revealed. Memoir? Check. Bestselling author? Check. Luxury endorsements? Check. Charity basketball games? Linsanity. His first Met Gala? Iconic. Celebrity Jeopardy! winner? Light work. Talk show host? He ate dim sum on TV! And with the recent announcement that he’ll be starring in and executive producing the series Seven Wonders (not to mention his upcoming appearance in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie film and plans for a Shang-Chi sequel), we are seeing that there is still more audacity to be unleashed. And with each new dream he materializes, it emboldens us to be audacious too.

Tegan and Sara were the overachieving queer pop twin duo the world needed in 2022

From their new album Crybaby to their autobiographical TV show High School, the Quins were serving wins

In the span of one week in 2022, Tegan and Sara achieved more than many of us will in our entire careers. On October 21, the Calgary-born twin pop duo released their 10th studio album, Crybaby. Five days later, they embarked on their first tour in over three years. And then, just two days after that, they gifted us High School, a television series based on the Quin sisters’ experiences as teenagers (and an adaptation of their 2019 memoir of the same name).

Excuse the sports-speak, but that is … quite the hat trick. And if you're a sports-averse gay, like me, no hat trick has ever been such a cause for celebration.

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For more than two decades since their first album (1999’s Under Feet Like Ours), Tegan and Sara have been amassing a legion of passionate fans, of which I am a proud member. I was introduced to them in the mid-2000s, during some particularly tumultuous years navigating my first romantic relationships with other men, and the relief the band’s angsty, openly queer pop gave me was so valuable that, many years later, it would be the catalyst for starting an LGBTQ-focused column here at CBC Arts.

With their new album Crybaby, they once again offer their fans the same kind of catharsis — this time specific to what we’ve all just experienced as a collective society. With track titles like “Smoking Weed Alone,” “Pretty Shitty Time” and “Fucking Up What Matters,” it’s not hard to guess that the album was written during the peak of the pandemic. But while its anxiety-ridden lyrics are as contemporary as they come, the album has been heralded as a sonic throwback to their indie pop-rock roots — which is part of what makes the nearly simultaneous release of High School so complimentary. We get to explore the roots of Tegan and Sara, as people and as artists, both on a new album and in a TV series.

And it’s not just any TV series. High School is exceptional storytelling on a level rarely achieved when it comes to depicting the lives of teenagers, especially LGBTQ teenagers. Developed by the Quins and actress-turned-filmmaker Clea DuVall, the series follows versions of Tegan (played by Railey Gilliland) and Sara (Seazynn Gilliland) as they navigate their identities and their music in mid-1990s suburban Calgary. One of the many glowing reviews of the show called it “the My So-Called Life of queer teen dreams” (much to Tegan and Sara’s delight), and I cannot imagine what a game-changer it would have been to have around when I was a queer teen. But it gives me great comfort knowing it’s here for the teenagers of 2022.

This year has not been an easy one for queer folks, with biogtry and violence seeming to accelerate in ways that many of us hoped were behind us. But even if it may be a particularly difficult world for LGBTQ youth, thankfully, it's also a world that does have at least two things going for it: Tegan and Sara.

Credits

Produced by: Peter Knegt and Eleanor Knowles | Editing: Eleanor Knowles, Chris Hampton and Peter Knegt | Illustrations and Design: Natalie Very B | Art Direction: Eleanor Knowles | Web Design and Development: Jeff Hume | Video: March Mercanti, Mercedes Grundy, Lucius Dechausay, and Chelle Turingan | Project Management: Michelle Villagracia

Writing by: Alicia Elliott, Amanda Parris, Andrea Warner, Anne T. Donahue, Catherine Hernandez, Chris Dart, Chris Hampton, Huda Hassan, Kelly Boutsalis, Leah Collins, Luis De Filippis, Michelle Mama, Peter Knegt, Radheyan Simonpillai, Romeo Candido, Rukhsar Ali, Sydney Urbanek and V.T. Nayani