The Legacy Awards – the first major Canadian awards show honouring Black Canadian talent – debuted Sunday night with a fast-paced (90-ish-minutes long), fun (Jamaican patties and 2014 Oscars-style crowd selfies, anyone?) and powerful (put simply: representation matters) telecast.
Founded and hosted by Canadian actors (and brothers) Shamier Anderson and Stephan James via their organization The Black Academy, the inaugural event featured performances, award presentations and tributes honouring established and emerging Black Canadian talent – with excellence and accomplishments spanning across fields including film, television, music, athletics and culture.
“The power of being able to empower our people, put them on this stage, give them an opportunity to give testimony, share their journeys with Black Canadians all over this country. It’s a very, very powerful thing; it’s something that’s not lost on my brother and myself,” James told CBC News.
@slicedotca an event for the books ✨ #legacyawards #blacktalent #canadiantalent #toronto ♬ son original – nathaellabat
Indeed, as Canada’s first all-Black awards ceremony, the event celebrated both the talent of individuals and the power of raising the platform for Canadians who are often underrepresented in their industries. “For Black Canadians it means there’s a platform for them. And not only does the platform exist, it’s getting wider. There have been gatekeepers for so long preventing us, because of the colour of our skin, from getting into these doors, from being on stages like this,” said Legacy Awards performer Randell Adjei, who became the first Poet Laureate of Ontario last year.
Using the awards given out at the first-ever Legacy Awards show as our guide, we’re highlighting some of the Black Canadian talent that’s on the rise right now.
Andre De Grasse: Sprinter, Olympian and athlete of the year
While “Canada’s fastest man” Andre De Grasse is no stranger to winning (the sprinter has six Olympic medals, including a gold medal from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, to his name), he is now the first person to ever be awarded a Legacy Award, too. In honour of his athletic accomplishments and his contribution to the Black Canadian identity, De Grasse received the first award of the night: the Athlete of the Year Award.
Kayla Grey: Sports journalist, TV host, producer and rising star
As the winner of the Jahmil French Award (named after the late Canadian actor), sportscaster Kayla Grey took home the award for being a rising star in Canadian media.
Grey is the host and co-executive producer of The Shift with Kayla Grey on TSN and appears regularly on SportsCentre. Notably, when she made her SportsCentre debut in 2018, Grey became the first Black woman to host a flagship sports highlight show in Canada.
In her speech, Grey spoke to the power of the moment for Black Canadians. “Look at our beauty, our strength. What resides between these walls, and if that energy could talk, what would it say? How we move individually, collectively — which leads me to ask, what the heck [are they] so afraid of?”
Fabienne Colas: Actor, filmmaker and visionary
Haitian-Canadian filmmaker, actress and film festival founder Fabienne Colas took home the Visionnaire Award. While Colas is a storyteller herself, she also manages 12 film festivals (including Canada’s largest Black film festival, the Montreal International Black Film Festival) and works as a diversity and inclusion consultant supporting diversity in front of and behind the camera. As her introduction explained, Colas won not just for her work showcasing Black Canadian talent, but “because she made a way when there was none.”
In her acceptance speech, Colas spoke about the importance of inclusion and diversity for Black and BIPOC individuals both in front of and behind the camera. “They are part of our society, but they are not included, they are excluded from what should be the mirror of society, which is television and cinema,” Colas said.
In this vein, Colas also shared how, as a child in Haiti, she watched the person who presented her with the Visionnaire Award, Michaëlle Jean (who was then a news broadcaster but who went on to become Canada’s first Black governor general) on Radio Canada — and how seeing a woman of colour on screen impacted her. “You led me and so many other women of colour to dream a bigger dream for themselves,” Colas told Jean.
You may also like: 10 times representation happened for Black women and why it matters.
Ika Wong: Digital creator and the fans’ choice
The final award of the night (and the only award of the night that featured a slate of nominees and the suspense of an award reveal) went to Ika Wong. The reality star (she appeared on Big Brother Canada seasons 2 and 5) and content creator took home the Digital Creator Fan Choice Award. Fans voted for the Toronto-based influencer’s work as a digital creator.
Other nominees for this year’s Fan Choice Award included creators the Basement Gang, Keshia Rush, King Bach, Kissy Duerré and Marlon Palmer.