In this post, the second one to highlight our 2019 Special Award recipients, the Canadian Academy would like to pay special tribute to Stephan James, our Radius Award winner; The Kids in the Hall, our Academy Icon Award winners; Mary Walsh, our Earle Grey Award winner; and, finally, Deepa Mehta, our Lifetime Achievement Award winner.
Sometimes, a local actor manages to begin from an urban centre and speed outwards into the world’s wider circles, making waves along the way.
Watching Scarborough, Ontario’s Stephan James’ career emerge into the larger sphere of Hollywood fame has been a delight for the Academy, and we are honoured to name him as the recipient of our inaugural Radius Award.
Readers may first remember James’ Canadian Screen Award-winning portrayal of Jesse Owens in Race, the 2016 biographical film that follows the Olympic dreamer amidst racial discrimination. But we already knew his talents from Ava DuVernay’s astonishing drama Selma, in which James played John Lewis, the civil rights leader and famously passionate politician.
John Lewis and Jesse Owens are key figures with important histories to their names, and James’ powerful on-screen magnetism channels them beautifully.
Even a fictional story like Barry Jenkins’ 2018 adaptation of the James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk comes with similarly all-too-real depictions of the unjust treatment of Black people in America. It’s here, in his turn as Fonny — a young man falsely accused of rape — that James emerges to international audiences as what we’ve known him to be: a humble, humane, extraordinarily gifted actor.
The Academy wishes all the best for Stephan James as his career continues to soar.
The Kids in the Hall
“Deity, or deities! Forgive this abuse of your earthbound ambassador, but my calling is very specific: I am crushing your head, I am crushing your head, I am crushing your head!”
Mark McKinney’s Mr. Tyzik is just one of The Kids in the Halls’ beloved characters, and it’s for this “head-crushing” sketch and so, so many others (Spy Models! The Chicken Lady! Husk Musk!) that the troupe is now iconic.
Iconic. Y’know, the main idea in “Academy Icon Award”? With strange scenarios and even stranger get-ups, a Kids in the Hall sketch is immediately identifiable.
The Kids, as they’re colloquially known, consist of Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, and Bruce McCulloch, and their legendary television sketch comedy series ran from 1989 to 1995 on CBC. They followed that up with a single film, 1996’s The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy, which has since become a Canadian cult classic.
Like a zanier Monty Python, these comic veterans lean towards the odd, the bizarre, and the wonderfully surreal. Fortunately, they struck a chord with Canadians — so while their show’s been off the air for over 20 years, that we’re still quoting the Kids today, of course, means this award is right on the money.
(And if you’re reading this, Mr. Tyzik, just know: We’re on Team Headcrush, not Team Facepinch.)
We were originally going to write here that Newfoundland’s Mary Walsh is our 2019 Earle Grey Award winner, but we recently received a harshly-worded screed from one “Marg Delahunty” that outlines why she, not Ms. Walsh, should receive this achievement in Canadian television acting. Here it is, in part:
“Dear Canadian Screen Awards:
First off — Canadian Screen Awards? What an awkward name for a trophy. Why not go even further and call it the Hockey Double-Double Prize for Goin’ On Camera, eh? What, in the name of God, were you thinking?”
The letter — signed Marg, Warrior Princess — goes on and on, picking on our softspots while boasting about her many talents. We’ll admit, it made us laugh.
Thanks, Ms. Delahunty, but this one goes to Mary, Comedian Extraordinaire.
Yes, it’s true: Walsh, who created the political satire show This Hour Has 22 Minutes in 1993 after a successful run of CBC’s CODCO sketch comedy series, is this year’s Earle Grey Award winner. After 26 seasons, 22 Minutes is still on TV today, incisively making fun of Canada’s political climate one “hour” at a time.
And while they may be few and far between these days, we’d like to hope Marg Delahunty — one of Walsh’s many indelible characters — has more than a few surprise Parliament Hill ambushes left in her.
It’s hard to overstate the impact filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s Elements trilogy had on the global film landscape.
In 1996, she released Fire, a film that opened the Toronto International Film Festival and, because it depicted a lesbian relationship, set alight a series of controversies and protests in the Bollywood world. In 1998, she followed up with Earth, a period romance that later became India’s 1999 Oscar entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category.
She was set to complete the trilogy with Water in 2000, but outrage and further controversy surrounded the production, delaying release until 2005. When it did finally hit theatres, it went on to be one of five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2007 Academy Awards.
Important milestones in Canadian film, Fire, Earth, and Water are just three titles in Mehta’s directing career that spans a dozen feature films, including 2002’s Bollywood / Hollywood and a beautiful adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in 2012.
But just when you think you know a filmmaker — films about love and life, say — Mehta releases a movie like 2015’s Beeba Boys, an action-packed maelstrom of a crime thriller that reveals the dangerous underworld of Vancouver gang violence.
At 69, Mehta is still going strong, slated to launch her Netflix series Leila this year. That said, given her constant innovation and tendency to push the envelope, we hope this accolade — the Canadian Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award — is but one vote of confidence to see her carry on for years to come.