It’s been 20 years since the premiere of Degrassi, and the Canadian series remains one of the most important teen dramas of all time. We can’t forget how it launched the careers of some Canadian icons, most notably Grammy-winning, record-breaking certified lover boy Drake, who got his start on the show as Jimmy Brooks before his career in rap took off.
Most people remember Drake’s character best for being struck by a bullet in a school shooting that took place in season four, which subsequently landed Jimmy in a wheelchair and explored him adjusting to his partial paralysis. However, it turns out that Drake was not a fan of Jimmy’s journey following the shooting story arc, and almost took legal action to change his character’s fate.
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James Hurst, a former writer on the show, recently shared a conversation with AV Club that he had with Drake about the plotline.
“There was a letter from a law firm in Toronto, and it was from Aubrey [Drake’s legal first name]. It was an odd letter that said, ‘Aubrey Graham will not return to Degrassi season six as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury is healed, and he’s out of the wheelchair.’ I said, ‘Get him down here,'” Hurst said. “He came in and was like, ‘What letter? I don’t know about that.’ And I said, ‘All right, I understand. But how do you feel about the wheelchair?'”
“He’s like, ‘All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.’ And I said, ‘Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get? You got shot, and you’re in a wheelchair.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’
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“He was so nice and apologetic about everything,” Hurst continued. “He instantly backed down. I was very passionate about it, and I said, ‘Aubrey, there’s some kid somewhere in a wheelchair, who’s completely ignored, who’s never on television, never gets represented. I need you to represent this person. You’re the coolest kid on the show, and you can say there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair,'” he said.
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Shane Kipple, who played Gavin “Spinner” Mason, Jimmy’s best friend on the show, pointed out how some of Drake’s discomfort likely stemmed from him playing a character who is differently-abled from him in real life. There has been a constant debate over whether able-bodied actors should be taking on roles of characters who are not, especially due to the systemic barriers that differently-abled actors have when it comes to getting roles.
”[There’s] the apprehension of having your character confined to a wheelchair, or even not really feeling like it’s right to be portraying someone who is confined to a wheelchair if you’re fully abled yourself,” Kipple said. “But that pertains to [Aubrey] and how he felt with that.”
Drake did not end up taking legal action and continued to play Jimmy for several more seasons on the show. Even after eventually moving on from acting to focus on his music, he’s never forgotten his Degrassi roots, reminding us all he knows where he came from with his Degrassi-themed music video for “I’m Upset.”