TORONTO — After launching The Black Academy in early December, actor-brothers Shamier Anderson and Stephan James are now planning an awards show to celebrate and uplift Black talent across Canada.
But getting financial backing is proving to be a challenge, they say.
The Toronto-raised performers say they want to debut the live, national telecast in the latter half of 2022 in their home city so they can have an in-person audience hopefully without COVID-19 fears.
The Black Academy has teamed up with Insight Productions on the show, which will celebrate both anglophone and francophone Black talent across film, television, music, sports, and culture.
While the Canada Media Fund has already provided financial support to The Black Academy, the organization needs more investment. They've had "a lot of meetings" but money hasn't come through, said Anderson.
"We have some other corporate entities, some of these individuals, come up in Black History Month to have one-off relationships and one-off things like, 'Hey, we want to support you, because it's a part of our mandate,'" he said in an interview. "And for us it's like, being Black doesn't happen in 28 days, the shortest month of the year. Being Black happens all year round."
Award categories, juries, and the submission process for the show will be announced at a later date.
Anderson and James are executive producing alongside John Brunton, Shannon Farr and Lindsay Cox of Insight Productions, which has worked on many awards shows and TV programs.
The telecast will feature awards presentations, performances, and tributes to honour established and emerging Black talent.
Anderson calls the event "groundbreaking and history-making."
"It's the first of its kind in Canada, nationally. It's kind of crazy when you say that — that this is the first in 2021. It just makes you think for a minute: 'Why?'" said the actor, whose credits include the series "Wynonna Earp," the upcoming Netflix sci-fi thriller "Stowaway" and Halle Berry's directorial debut, "Bruised."
"The Black awards show is a small piece of the work we're going to be doing with the academy but it's a big deal," said James, the Golden Globe-nominated star of the Amazon Prime Video series "Homecoming," whose film credits include "If Beale Street Could Talk," "Race" and "Selma."
"It's a big deal to finally have a place in which people can see themselves be recognized, be honoured. We can give folks their flowers while they're in Canada trying to develop their careers and build a livelihood for themselves."
The Black Academy and Insight Productions are now looking to hire a Black showrunner and Black creatives and crew for the event. They're also planning a skills development program for multiple positions in advance of pre-production. Interested applicants can submit their resumes to BlackAwardShowResumes@insighttv.com.
Farr said she's been on several calls with the Black Academy as they've spoken with potential partners, funders and government bodies over the last several months. Some people are under the false impression they have a lot of money to launch an awards show, she said.
"The truth of the matter is, there's still a lot of talk happening; there's not a lot of action," Farr said. "You can issue press releases, you can give speeches from thrones, you can do all that stuff. You can appoint various ministers of this, that and whatever. But until something happens, nothing is going to change.
"And we hear all kinds of excuses: 'The government is slow, we don't have this, we don't have a program for that, talk to this department.' And really, at the end of the day, I believe the general public believes that there's stuff happening, when really, it's a lot of nothing right now."
Anderson and James co-founded The Black Academy as a permanent, year-round operation to showcase Black talent, break down barriers of discrimination and combat systemic racism.
The academy is a national division of the brothers' not-for-profit group B.L.A.C.K. Canada (Building A Legacy in Acting, Cinema + Knowledge).
The awards show idea came about after the brothers met with Insight Productions in 2019 to co-develop a different, yet-to-be-announced project.
"There's one thing we do know for sure in the Black community, and that's: we want to do things big, bold and colourful," James said of their vision for the show.
"We want there to be an element of this that just seems grand, and long overdue, which of course it is. And so maybe we have a black carpet instead of a red carpet leading people into the awards show."
While the show is to celebrate and honour Black talent, those who attend it "will extend far past the Black community," he added.
"We count on seeing our white counterparts there who are standing with us and supporting us. We want to see the diversity that exists in Canada, what makes Canada Canada, and how being Black is factored into that as well," James said.
"From the guests who will be attending, to the overall look and esthetic, they're definitely going to be in for a treat. I want to say this will feel like the NAACP Image Awards, it'll feel like the Oscars, it'll feel like the Soul Train awards all in a little bit of a mashup."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press