When you're a young Black woman in Canada, there's nothing like seeing another young Black woman from Canada doing her thing. There's a pride in watching someone's trajectory as they blaze a trail from the streets and neighbourhoods you share to corners of the world you haven't touched yet - and there's a comfort in feeling like that trailblazer hasn't forgotten where they've come from.
Andrea Lewis is one of these trailblazing, young + Black + Canadian women. After roles in The Natalie Cole Story, Down In The Delta, and her starring role as Hazel on Degrassi: The Next Generation - and after also releasing two albums - Lewis has ventured into a new realm as a digital content creator with her webseries Black Actress and her production company Jungle Wild Productions. Backed by powerhouses like Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali, and Essence Atkins, Lewis' Black Actress webseries has carved a lane in telling the stories of Black actresses determined to make it - through intros from women like Jenifer Lewis, Amber Riley, Garcelle Beauvais and more, and through the journey of Kori, our thespian heroine played by Lewis.
In an effort to make a way for other artists and other stories, Lewis has launched Jungle Wild Productions, featuring "a collective of young, talented, content creators who are focused on producing a new generation of original television, film, and digital content that showcases women, people of color, and the LGBT community."
I first reached out to Andrea when I was planning my Mirror Images event last year. We recently met, and finally got to connect names/email addresses to faces. Now, I'm able to share her story with you all - read on to learn more about her journey, and find out how you can help in the Black Actress/Jungle Wild Productions takeover!
B: As a singer and actress, when did you realize that entertainment was your calling?
A: I knew from a very young age that entertainment and the arts were my passion. I don’t remember a day where I couldn’t sing lol and I started doing commercials on TV when I was two years old. I was very blessed to be put into the right place at the right time to foster my talents.
B: What led you to create the Black Actress webseries?
A: I came up with the idea for Black Actress after an experience I had while filming a movie in Vancouver, and my cast mate introduced me as “Andrea the urban one”. It was a very strange and awkward moment that let me realize he saw me the same way the script saw me and it was just as “the black girl”. From there I knew I had to create something that told the story of a woman of color pursuing the ups and downs of acting and chasing her dreams. Something that showed us just like everyone else.
B: You explore a lot of themes through the character of Kori that are relatable to many Black women, whether or not they’re aiming for stardom. Kori seems so sure of herself at certain points, then seems painfully insecure. What do you want viewers to get from Kori’s flaws, failures, and successes?
A: I think Kori represents the inner dialogue of insecurity. I want viewers to see a bit of themselves when they watch Kori. I wrote her based on a time in my life when I was very insecure and unsure of myself all while still pursuing my dreams and I just had to find my way through it. I hope to inspire everyone watching who may suffer from the same insecurities as Kori, to get out of their own way.
B: Where did the name of your production company “Jungle Wild” come from?
A: One of the definitions of “wild” is “unrestrained” and this is simply the way I live my life - I don’t want anything to hold me back, especially not myself. I came up with the name “Jungle Wild” because it makes me feel like that, like nothing can hold me back right now because I’m taking control of the wild nature of this business- aka the jungle - and making it my own, without any restraints.
B: You’re gearing up to produce a few new series on Jungle Wild like “Beyond Complicated,” “Fuel,” and “Married.” What are the kinds of stories you want to tell through your production company?
A: I’m so excited for the shows that we have coming this year! I’m working very hard at telling diverse stories that represent the voice of millennials.
B: If someone wants to venture into vlogging or creating a webseries, what are 3 tips you’d give them?
A: Build a great team of people to help you and who understand your vision. Write what you know and just do it!
B: You clearly embrace and showcase your Caribbean heritage in Black Actress. Being a Black, Canadian, Caribbean woman, do these different layers colour your perception of being an actress in the U.S.?
A: Yes, I’m a West Indian Canadian and that’s a very different experience from being an African American, but I grew up watching African Americans on TV and that was my example of people of color on screen and seeing images of people who looked like me. US culture is different from Canadian culture but I am able to pull from all of my experiences in Canada and living in the US as a Black Canadian to have a unique approach to my career and the stories I choose to tell in my writing.
B: You recently took part in a ColorOfChange.com campaign urging the Academy to disclose their numbers on diversity after what was deemed “the Whitest Oscars ever.” From your view inside the industry, what positive moves are being made to increase diversity, and what’s still lacking?
A: Little strides are being made. Hollywood is still a predominantly white male business but the president of the Academy - Cheryl Boone Issacs - is the first Black president and she’s a woman. Despite what we saw this year, she is working on bringing diversity to the Oscars. I think we’re seeing bigger strides in television, with the amount of Black female leads and Black showrunners and directors that are doing amazing work. I’m extremely optimistic though, as disappointing as it was to see the lack of diversity in the Oscars this year, I’m still very hopeful next year and the year after that will be different.
B: Amid all the concerns of competition among Black women, it’s so affirming to see the support you have through Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali, and Essence Atkins - never mind the presence of all the featured actresses who give their words of wisdom in each episode of Black Actress. What has that support done for you, both professionally and personally?
A: The support has been awesome! These women are my friends and my peers and I couldn’t ask for more with all of the support they’ve given me, my vision and the show. I always saw the show in this way and I knew that once I started telling people about it that the support would be there, because the story is positive.
B: What have you learned about yourself throughout the process of creating Black Actress/Jungle Wild?
A: Black Actress is a huge project and it takes a lot of people, time and parts to make it work. I’m very grateful for my producing partner Brian Walker who’s been with me through this process. But through all of this I’ve learned that I’m capable of doing anything I want.
Black Actress is in its second season - you can catch Kori's ups and downs (including features from Tristan Wilds, Reagan Gomez, Franchesca Ramsey and more) here! Lewis and team are in the homestretch of a Kickstarter campaign to help with production and distribution of S2 and S3 of Black Actress, so if you like what you see, donate!