From Scarborough to Hollywood and back: 2 star brothers promote homegrown talent

Stephan James and brother Shamier Anderson are working with some of Hollywood's biggest talent but they haven't forgotten their roots up north.

'We have a responsibility': Shamier Anderson and Stephan James want to give back

Canadian actors Shamier Anderson, left, and brother Stephan James are using their influence to mentor young Canadian talent, particularly people of colour. (Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)

Stephan James and brother Shamier Anderson are working with some of Hollywood's biggest talent — think Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman — but they haven't forgotten their roots up north.

"We have a responsibility," said Anderson. "A black man coming from this country and being an actor working worldwide, I got to make sure that I keep striving for the best so I can continue to inspire other individuals ... making my family and my country proud."

James, 25, and Anderson, 28, grew up in the Toronto borough of Scarborough. They credit their mother, a single parent, with believing in their acting skills and giving them roots. Anderson ventured into acting in 2010 and James followed soon after. Since then, the gigs have been steadily rolling in for both.

Anderson most recently starred opposite Kidman and Tatiana Maslany in the 2018 film Destroyer, is shooting a Netflix film in Toronto and was named one of TIFF's rising stars this year.

Anderson, named a rising star at TIFF this year, presents the TIFF Tribute Actor Award to legend Meryl Streep during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 9. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

The same title was given to James in 2015. Since then, he's starred alongside Roberts in the podcast-based series Homecoming, now approaching its second season. He was nominated for a Golden Globe this year for the drama and walked the Oscars red carpet for his equally buzzy film starring Regina King and directed by Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Combined, the Canadian brothers are taking Hollywood by storm — and using that profile to support more budding, diverse stars at home.

"What me and my brother want to do is we want to find the talent here, the homegrown talent here, and show them the support now," said James.

James embraces If Beale Street Could Talk co-star Regina King at the 2019 Academy Awards in February. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

'Huge celebration of incredibly talented Canadians'

And they're doing it in the form of the B.L.A.C.K. Ball, "a huge celebration of incredibly talented Canadians," says James. It's become an annual event the brothers host in Toronto to promote rising Canadians in the business.

"Even being in the system of the Canadian industry, we felt at the time there was a lack of support in the star system and building stars and fostering them and fostering talent and resources," said Anderson.

James, left and Anderson co-host their fourth annual B.L.A.C.K. Ball at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto Sept. 9. (Tashauna Reid/CBC)

Among attendees this year, Avengers directors Joe and Anthony Russo and Canadian actress Amanda Brugel, who stars in the series The Handmaid's Tale. Brugel says an event like this couldn't be more timely as the entertainment industry moves toward more inclusion.

"Everything has changed," said Brugel. "I'm a 42-year-old woman of colour and I couldn't be busier … And the idea that it's not slowing down — that it's only starting to really rev up — gives me hope."

Opening doors to inclusion

Brugel says the more gains made by Canadians — particularly actors of colour — the more doors that can open for others looking for role models. And that's one of James's main goals in returning home, says Elle Canada editor-in-chief Vanessa Craft. James is on the cover of the magazine's September issue.

"We're finally embracing the talent that we have locally as opposed to looking outside our city for talent," said Craft.

"One of the things Stephan said in our interview with him was, 'Why do I have to go to America to find heroes? To find someone to look up to? Why can't I just do that myself? Why can't I be one of those people?'"

James starred alongside Julia Roberts in Homecoming and was nominated for a Golden Globe. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

For James and Anderson, it's only the beginning.

Anderson can next be seen opposite Gina Rodriguez in the upcoming film Awake. James will star in the action thriller 21 Bridges opposite Black Panther's Chadwick Boseman, produced by the Russo brothers.

"We haven't stopped talking about him since we worked together," said Anthony Russo. "Honestly, it's like we literally sit in a room at our studio [and say], 'What else can we put Stephan in?'"

Considering the Russo brothers directed the superhero blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, the highest grossing film of all time and have themselves capitalized on the power of sibling unity, they'll likely have no trouble finding an answer.

With files from CBC's Tashauna Reid and Alice Hopton


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