If Kerry Washington taught us anything this year, it’s that 2013 is the year of the black actress. Although the plight of brown-skinned thespians is a never-ending story, the emergence of web series like Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl not only gives us meaty characters, but it allows for creative freedom. For Canadian industry vet Andrea Lewis (Degrassi, Cadet Kelly), this new media breakthrough makes being a black actress more exciting than ever before. Her upcoming series of the same name will spotlight the quirky everyday life of Cory Bailey, a mildly successful actress struggling to overcome Hollywood roadblocks.
Vixen recently caught up with Lewis to talk about teaming up with Issa Rae, running a successful IndieGogo fundraiser and her craziest audition experience.
VIBE Vixen: Is there camaraderie between you and other Toronto entertainers?
Andrea Lewis: Yeah! Any city or place you come from where there’s multiple people pursuing the same career, you definitely meet everybody and get to know everyone fairly well, whether it be on a professional level or friendship wise. I’ve always been blessed and very fortunate that I’ve lived in different parts of the U.S. and I always have friends there that are from Toronto. So, I’m never far from home [in a sense] which is really good.
Is there one person in particular you count as a close friend?
I’m really close with Melanie Fiona. She’s been my girl for many, many years. Maybe because we’re both Canadian. We both have West Indian background. She’s just a truth teller. Melanie keeps it real all the time. She’s always been my closest friend.
At what point did you realize being a black actress was going to be difficult?
I knew being a black actress was going to be difficult when I was 14. I started in the industry when I was only a toddler and I think if there’s one big thing you learn right away, it’s who you are or what you are in terms of the protocol and list of parts. There was always projects that wanted the token person of color. I was going to auditions that wanted people of color period and not just black girls. Everybody’s there and they’re just trying to fill one role. You learn that very quickly. It’s eye opening. It makes you take a stand, whether you’re going to stick by the stereotype or you say ‘Eff it, I’m going to create my own opportunities.’
Did you feel the same way on Degrassi?
My character a lot of the time was the token girl of color in a scene. She wasn’t necessarily significant. I might’ve been in a ton of episodes. I might’ve been in advertising and all kinds of things, but you didn’t always know things about my character or you didn’t get to hear her speak. I used to ask and talk to them about developing my character a little bit more and giving me a little more shine, but it was always fairly difficult. That’s just the system unfortunately. Luckily, we’re in a time now where the first lady is a black woman and you have TV shows like Scandal. There’s a real sense of turning around to bring in more people of color.
Canada is not like the U.S. in the sense that we don’t have a Canadian BET. We don’t have shows that have a full cast of black people. It is a feat itself to have been on such a recognized show in Canada and the U.S. as a person of color. That is an accomplishment.