Hailing from Scarborough, Ont., Shamier Anderson and Stephan James are two brothers who are on the rise in Hollywood. Both have been named TIFF Rising Stars (2019 for Anderson; 2015 for James), while James has also been nominated for an Emmy, Golden Globe and a NAACP Image Award. Between the two of them, the accolades they have achieved over the past few years is undoubtedly inspiring folx back at home.
While they continued to see growth in their own careers, Anderson and James saw that there was a lack of representation and recognition in the industry for other Black Canadians who were making a big impact around the world.
Enter The Black Academy: An organization aiming to make industry change
With an understanding of discrimination and systemic racism happening within Canada, the brothers have joined forces to break down those barriers with their new initiative called The Black Academy. The national Black-led organization was recently launched to celebrate and inspire Black Canadians in the arts, culture, entertainment, and sports. It is a division of their community-based not-for-profit B.L.A.C.K (Building A Legacy In Acting, Cinema + Knowledge) Canada that was established in 2016. B.L.A.C.K aims to provide more opportunities in the entertainment industry for Black talent.
With funding from The Canada Media Fund, The Black Academy will be permanent and year-round, as it serves as an extension of B.L.A.C.K and will spotlight and support the work of the community through educational programming, panel discussions, presentation of awards, and more. In an effort to make an impact on the community, the academy will work closely with similar organizations, as well as the government to help pave the way for future generations.
How deep ties to their community is motivating them to take action now
“We recognize this glaring gap, and you can say the time is now, but the reality is, the time was probably 50 years ago,” James says, as he explains how the new organization will help fill gaps in the entertainment industry. With deep ties to their community, Anderson and James saw that many people like them were trying to follow a similar path, but ended up falling short.
“There aren’t too many people doing what we’re doing coming from where we come from. How many other Black actors can look to Scarborough to say they’re from here and they were actually able to take it here,” says James.
After reflecting on their own experiences within their careers, the brothers realized that if they were going to see any change in representation in their industry, they would have to actively be a part of that change, “It’s not enough for us to get cast in our roles and chill in Los Angeles. Though the weather’s nice out here, that’s not really doing anything for our community back home in Scarborough, and Canada as a whole,” says James.
When it comes to the Anglophone and Francophone Black talent in Canada, James expands on the lack of support within the country, “We don’t really have a stage and we don’t really have an infrastructure to career-build. Everyone feels like in order to garner a specific amount of success, they got to go south of the border and that’s just not okay anymore.”
To further his point, he brings up Canadian rapper Drake, “We saw what happened with Drake. We saw how Drake had to get love in the South before Canada said ‘alright, this is our guy.’ We want to end this perpetual cycle of people feeling like they got to leave to be celebrated and recognized, to ultimately grow their careers and grow their brands. We are stepping in and filling that void — closing that gap that exists between us and our neighbours to the South.”
Bringing the awareness back to Canada
When asked about what success looks like for The Black Academy, Anderson acknowledges that there is a lot of groundwork to cover, “I think every day is a new day, and we can kind of look at it that way. We don’t have all the answers and we identify and understand, we know some things, but we don’t know all things. And, I think it’s important to understand that this is going to be work.”
Making a point about Canadian programming compared to the United States, he says “The Americans, they have the BET Awards, the BET channel, they have NAACP Image Awards and the Soul Train Awards. We’ve seen this time and time again, and it’s kind of interesting and odd that we don’t have that back at home.” Noticing the lack of similar programming on a national scale, Anderson and James are working with the Canadian Screen Awards to help build programs to bridge that gap. “It’s necessary. It’s now,” Anderson emphasizes.
Though the initiative is new and what success looks like hasn’t been crystalized, the pair are adamant to keep the conversations going and get the needle moving.
As co-founders of The Black Academy, Stephan and Shamier have already appointed their board of directors, including Vanessa Craft, Alica Hall, Wes Hall, Jennifer Holness, Divya Shahani, and Tonya Williams. By launching this new initiative, the two Scarborough brothers continue to show their dedication and support to their community. Based in Toronto, The Black Academy will elevate Black talent in both the Anglophone and Francophone communities in Canada. It’s necessary. It’s now.