In Toronto’s crowded film industry, Aisha Evelyna credits her cultural upbringing for molding her. Her bold and boisterous personality are a product of her Jamaican and Bahamian upbringing, while her shyness is something molded by harsh life lessons from her mother.
Evelyna is an emerging actress from Toronto who is talented on and off the big screen. After recently graduating with a bachelor of arts degree from York University’s Acting program, she has been featured in multiple Canadian hit TV series including Murdoch Mysteries, Canadian Moms and 12 Monkeys. In her latest short film Accidentals, featured in the 2018 Toronto Black Film Festival, Evelyna displays both her acting and writing talents in a story that reflects her personal life. The film depicts a story of generational conflict between a young Black woman named Sydney, played by Aisha, and her estranged father Darryl, played by Kevin Hanchard.
Her story embodies what it’s like to have a Caribbean upbringing in a Canadian context and balancing the two cultures. Her parents keep her in direct proximity of her heritage’s culture while she navigates the Canadian creative arts landscape as an actress.
BASHY: What was the inspiration behind creating Accidentals?
Aisha Evelyna: The idea came to my head when I was watching an episode of Scandal. I was watching Kerry Washington [as Olivia Pope] yell at her dad and I was relieved to finally see a woman that is not from the hood, that looks like me, talking to a father that looks like a father that I have and they’re talking about issues that transcend gender. I found it very interesting. I don’t think I necessarily see enough father-daughter relationships on screen. I feel like there’s a focus on father-son relationships while father-daughter relationships was something I personally feel that I didn’t see enough of. The dynamic between Kerry‘s character and her father in the show was something I felt related to the relationship with my father. I also drew some inspiration from one of my favorite plays called Fences by August Wilson. It’s a depiction of a father-son relationship with regards to Blackness without the central focus of the relationship being the Blackness. What I want to watch is two people of colour talking about something where race is not the central tennant, the otherness is not the focus but that doesn’t mean we erase the otherness.
Is there anything about Kevin Hanchard that reminds you of your own father? What made him a good fit for this role?
In my film there’s a generational conflict between a millennial and Sydney’s father but it's not so strong because her father doesn't have an accent and he grew up in Canada as well. Now when I talk to Kevin, he tells me stories about how his father took a liking to hockey after moving to Canada from the Caribbean and eventually bonding with him. It has nothing to do with Blackness, it's just two people bonding. When I wrote this film, I had my own dad in mind as well, with regards to his lack of understanding of the trials and tribulations of my generation. He also really understood where this father was coming from and where the daughter was coming from because of his own experience. I think all this helped him play a very well rounded character. They way he spoke about being a kid and growing up in Canada, it was like he instantly got it and understood my vision.
Both these characters seem like they’re in a rough patch in their lives, where did this idea come from?
When I wrote it I had this idea of purgatory in the back of my mind, like being between two spaces when you die. Like, when you die and the person doesn’t feel that they’re complete then they can’t move over to the other side, right? They live in this weird space. So in the back of my mind when I was writing it, these two characters were not complete. They’re kind of in this weird intermingle-y space, so what happens when you take them in their weird transitional spaces in their own separate lives and put them together and put them on a journey between two places.
Being an actor of colour in Toronto, is there anything about the film industry that becomes a challenge for you?
The reason we applaud anyone when they make anything is because when you don’t have the major network or a grant behind you, it is next to impossible to get anything off the ground. Producing something without a big enough budget is very difficult, especially making something that can compete on the world market. The other thing that’s hard to find is tribe. By tribe I mean having a community of people to reach out to that work in different areas. If there’s anything that I learned from Issa Rae is that we should always network across and not up. My focus is to find people that are on the same level as me and are passionate about creating regardless of the payout. It’s impossible to make things if you don’t have money but tribe makes it worthwhile.
You’re Jamaican in a city filled with people of differing Caribbean heritages. How do you think Toronto’s environment molded you?
My mother was born in Jamaica and my dad is from the Bahamas so both those cultures resonate inside me wherever I go. One of the things that I noticed about Toronto is the exposure and how lucky I was to have the exposure to other cultures and how privileged we are to have that. This was something that only became apparent once I started travelling a little more. Being exposed to other cultures made me more comfortable with exposing others to the culture that I had at home. I haven’t been back to Jamaica for quite some time but I feel that I would be a different person if I didn’t have that same Jamaican influence that I had from my family in Toronto. In Toronto you’re able to see the differences between races more clearly because, by virtue of being Canadian, we give people the pride to embrace their culture.
As a Jamaican woman, what is something you cherish that connects you to your heritage?
Not being shy. Being Jamaican is [being part of] a very bold, loud and outspoken culture. That’s one of the things I really do cherish and it lives in my mother because she’s not afraid to say anything to anybody. In my head, this idea of being shy gets you nowhere. The one thing that I feel lives in my mother and Jamaican culture is not being small. There’s nothing in Jamaican culture that allows you to be small, everything is bold. It lives in my grandmother, my mom and me in a more subtle way. There’s also this idea of generational difference. The older generation needs to trust that by virtue, things are going to rub off on their kids since they are around them a lot and they will carry that Jamaican culture everywhere they go. The only difference is that everyone, like myself, will carry that culture in more subtle ways.
Photos by Tejas Panchal.