However, I’m sure you’ve noticed a distinct pattern by now. All of the above-mentioned shows are American. It’s not lost on us that there are Canadian-based award shows too, but none that catered to the Canadian Black community—until now.
Last year, Scarborough bredrens and Hollywood rising stars Stephan James and Shamier Anderson brought a vision to Canadian television that no one has seen before. Even with the naysayers buzzing in their ears, they were determined to prove them wrong. James and Anderson showed everyone what celebrating Black Excellence, in Black Canadian style, looks like on a grand scale.
Some are torn about the feedback on the internet after the most recent Black award show, the BET Awards. There has been criticism about bringing back “Black star power,” upping the ante on performances and having a dress code. While the Grammy’s are losing viewership from the younger demographic because they don’t revere the show to be of relevance anymore. This leads to a conversation about whether award shows hold the same importance and prominence they once did. Well, that depends on many variables, including what side of the coin or border you’re on.
You all know that I never tire of saying representation matters. So are we in need of yet another award show? My answer is a resounding yes, especially up North. An event like The Legacy Awards was unprecedented. If this wasn’t a show that unabashedly crashed the Canadian media landscape to shout, ‘We belong!’ I don’t know what is.
The Legacy Awards was the first award show in Canadian history of that grandeur created for Black Canadians and presented on a national channel. It celebrated Blackness, inspiration, roots and culture, past and present, all under a banner of excellence—unapologetically. (We’ll never forget the Randy’s Patties commotion. Ever.) This year, they’re returning to History with the same fire and determination they’ve had from the beginning, accompanied by a new host.
For Stephan, it’s more than just an award show. The importance of providing this platform is greater than that. “I think for myself and my brother, the whole idea of “Black” itself and the Black Academy stemmed from feeling like outsiders looking in. Feeling that not enough of us were acknowledged or seen. So, my brother and I looked at each other like, ‘If not us, then who?’ If we have a certain platform and want to see certain changes in our industry, why not be the change you want to see? I think we took it personally. We're only going to wait so long for someone else to do this for us, to be honest.”
“My brother and I are overly ambitious, maybe to a fault sometimes (laughs). We constantly hear about how hard things could be, or it won't be easy. But, we've accepted the challenge quite frankly. I believe that last year we proved it could be done. We put many amazing, incredible, talented Black Canadians in one room. We had them celebrate each other, inspire each other, uplift each other, and uplift the whole nation. We're incredibly grateful that we were able to spark this, and hopefully, we can keep it going,” says James.
It’s no secret that we feel unseen and are hardly given the opportunities as our other counterparts unless there’s an unexpected ripple or disturbance in the world that requires it or we build it ourselves. 95% of the time, we do the latter. And to up the Black quotient this year, the new host, Keshia Chanté, is ready to bring her bright, engaging and energetic pulse to the show. She’s excited about the opportunity ahead and that James and Anderson sent a four-page letter à la Aaliyah (one may argue it was a full PDF presentation) her way; she couldn’t possibly decline.
“Well, they wrote me quite the letter. I received an email with the pitch and idea, and it was so sweet and sentimental (laughs). I thought, ‘I really want to be a part of it.’ Last year's Legacy Awards were amazing, and I watched it and had FOMO. I wanted to go! So it's nice that I'm not only getting to go this year but also to host and be a part of it. It's a piece of Canadian history that we get to create. It's an iconic show, and I'm super grateful and honoured to be a part of it,” says Chanté.
Chanté hit the concept on the dot—it’s a piece of Canadian history taking place for the second consecutive year. And ideally, for many more years to come. Anderson said something that stuck with me after our conversation. He shared that their mom taught them, “If your plan only involves you, it’s not big enough.” They’ve etched that sentiment into every fabric of what they create and do. Taking on this mission and seeing it through to last after their lifetime, in true form, lives up to the show's name.
Our theme word during our conversation was ‘ruckus.’ Last year was a good type of ruckus. It shifted people’s perception of what we can achieve, what we can do when given space, and how important it is for Canadians, young and old, to see how Black Excellence contributes to the Canadian tapestry, in this case, via a relatively new award show.
Words used to describe the show include history, inspiration and paying it forward via James; Chanté followed with iconic, beautiful, inspiring and forward, while Anderson ended with Black Canadian excellence. All these sentiments are shared by the many who have watched last year’s inaugural show and heavily anticipate what’s in store this year.
So, yes, we need another award show with all the talent, pomp and pageantry, and this one fits the bill. It holds the distinction of for us, by us. So this is a positive. We’re always quick to jump on the bandwagon when things get murky. This is the other side of the game. This is the time to support and talk about the energy the show emits and how it feels to see ourselves authentically represented.
And as we know, this is all difficult to come by in the grand scheme. But it is achievable. Anderson sums it up nicely. “It's a collective that builds this entire operation we got going on. Obviously, the idea started with my brother and me. But the reality is, there's a huge team behind this, and I think it's growing. The first step was that we got into the room, and I think now it's about letting more people in quietly but also with a bit of ruckus, as you put it. But it's surreal. It's not lost on me that this has happened and that it's happening. There's so much more room to grow and to build and make this more of what it's supposed to be, which is Black Canadian excellence.”
You can watch The Legacy Awards on CBC and CBC Gem on Sunday, September 24, 2023, at 8 p.m. (9 p.m. AT/9:30 p.m. NT).