Jillian Danford is a wife, mom, boss, and visionary who has harnessed the star power of her charismatic clan to produce a social media phenomenon. The self-made YouTube sensation has enamoured millions with the daily antics of a typical Caribbean family living in the Canadian suburbs. The outspoken mom and laid-back dad are proud parents of millennial and Gen Z children.
“My family’s so extra for no reason.” – Miles Danford
Canadians fell in love with The Danfords (Jillian, Warren, Miles, and Milan) in 2019 when their breakout hit reality series Auntie Jillian first aired on Bell Fibe1 and sky-rocketed to No. 1 ratings.The feel-good comedic content includes Warren getting suckered into sugar waxing his chest hair, Miles educating his grandparents about the different strains of medicinal marijuana, and the family’s attempt at roughing it in the Great White North.
Just as Auntie Jillian was set to begin filming the second season from their home in Ajax, ON, the pandemic put their plans on pause, along with a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the police killing of George Floyd. Then came the social media scandal involving blogger-influencer Sasha Exeter and Jessica Mulroney, socialite and TV host. Exeter posted an Instagram video explaining that Mulroney took offence to a BLM post and threatened her livelihood. Once further disparaging remarks were made public, CTV released a statement on Twitter and Instagram firing Mulroney and removed, I Do Redo from all of its Bell Media channels due to a conflict with its commitment to diversity and equality. Exeter’s courageous moment emboldened Black media personalities to speak their truth, including Danford who took to Instagram and challenged Canadian networks to bet on Black.
In an excerpt from her June 12th post captioned “Dear Bell Media – Let’s Talk”, Danford states, “Through my publicist @fkbmedia, the show has garnered global attention with numerous media outlets including Black publications, local media and ETalk Canada (a Bell Media show) covering our success. Because of her, I also appear on Bell Media’s @CTVNews Channel show, Mind The Gap as a regular panellist. None of this assistance came from @CTVPR or the internal promotion that gave “I Do Redo” the attention it received. BBC Radio in London has interviewed me about our history-making Canadian show. Why does it always take outsiders to recognize Canadian success? As we head into Season 2 of Auntie Jillian, I would like some guidance @BellMedia on how to get on @CraveCanada or @Netflix and @CTV. In light of recent events, I understand a slot now needs to be filled.”
Danford says Bell Media President Randy Lennox stepped up to the challenge and met every demand with a full-blown marketing campaign including billboards, appearances on daytime television, and a guest host appearance on The Social. CTV has been Canada’s most-watched television network for almost two decades and Auntie Jillian became the first Fibe TV original series to shift platforms just in time for their summer lineup. The unprecedented move was a win-win for both sides and the three-week run of Season 1, ended on August 8th with industry insiders speculating Auntie Jillian snagged the top spot on the Saturday, 8 PM time slot. If the rumours prove to be true, Danford says it only confirms that their relatable brand of melanated magic didn’t happen by fluke.
“You have to continue to work hard and what’s for you - you will get. It doesn’t matter who notices and who doesn’t notice it. So although we have been filming and doing this, a lot of it has been passion as well. The people just see us as normal, everyday people. I’ve been married for thirty years. That has not been a walk in the park. This is work…marriage is work. So I’m juggling kids - my daughter is in university and changes courses all the time. She didn’t know what she wanted to do. Finally, she buckled down and figured it out. Raising a young Black boy as well, into a man - a Black man. That has not been easy for me or for him. A lot of people have stereotypes and that’s just the way it is in Canada and other places. He may be intimidating to some but he’s a good kid and I always have to reinforce the values of our family. I have to educate them in different ways. The learning doesn’t end at school. We are parents and we have to educate our kids.”
By inviting viewers into their lives, Auntie Jillian counters the stereotypical narrative of broken Black families. Danford says they’ve been recently flooded with emails from new fans who are pleasantly surprised at how strongly they connect with each of them. Although the show will continue filming with Fibe TV1, she wants to conquer the U.S. market. In the meantime, she says her international fans can watch the show through the pay-per-view option on itsarealting.com.
When asked about Season 2, she says there are much bigger stories to tell. She’d love to offer viewers an authentic experience of Caribbean culture by shooting on location in Trinidad and Jamaica. There are also plans for the family to collaborate with a celebrity music producer on a project, all while maintaining the normalcy of their daily lives. Her husband continues to work as a financial advisor while trying out new recipes as the cook in the family. Meanwhile, her children tackle adulting with humour and honesty. Through it all, Danford is the glue that holds everyone together as they continue to deliver top-quality programming on a shoe-string budget.
It remains to be seen if CTV’s grand gesture was a golden opportunity for the station to salvage their public image or a genuine effort to work with BIPOC content creators. As they gear up for the fall season, Auntie Jillian has now become a household name and the show is positioned to partner with a major network. Danford says in the midst of their success, the family is humbled by all the positive feedback and is thankful their reality has become a fan favourite around the world on various platforms.
“I just want to say it’s been a long time coming, and I thank them for sticking behind us. For taking the brand and making noise to executives and helping us. We want to thank them for tuning in and loving the show. They have embraced my life and accepted our family. I feel like people in numbers can do so much and we’re ready.”
True Daley was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec and relocated to Toronto in the 90s where she was a fixture in the hip-hop journalism scene as a freelance writer for various urban publications. She's also worked as a morning news anchor, actor, late-night TV host and commentator on pop culture and politics with appearances on Flow 93.5FM, BET, HBO, CBC and MuchMusic. Currently, the proud Parkdalian is a community worker and filmmaker with an unhealthy attachment to vintage clothing. Follow True Daley on Twitter @truedaley.