Toronto – March 21, 2021 – Winnifred Jong, Jessica Meya and Louis Taylor receive 2020 Sandi Ross Awards
Toronto, March 21, 2021 – Tokens creator-director Winnifred Jong and Working the Scene in Colour co-creators Jessica Meya and Louis Taylor were honoured at the Sandi Ross Awards tonight. The recipients were celebrated during a one-hour roundtable discussion about diversity and inclusion in the film and television industry, hosted by ACTRA Toronto’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee Co-Chairs Lisa Michelle Cornelius and Samora Smallwood.
The Sandi Ross Awards, ordinarily presented in September each year, were postponed in 2020 by the pandemic. The 2020 Sandi Ross Awards were broadcast at 8 p.m. tonight and can be seen on ACTRA Toronto’s YouTube channel. The Sandi Ross Awards celebrate one individual and one company/organization each year whose work demonstrates a commitment to inclusion on screen.
Winnifred Jong is an award-winning Toronto-based filmmaker and alumna of Women in the Director’s Chair and Ryerson University. Since being named one of Playback’s 5-to-Watch in 2018, she has directed multiple episodes of CBC’s Coroner, Heartland and Global’s Nurses along with episodes of Pretty Hard Cases (CBC), Endlings (Hulu), and Private Eyes (Global/eOne). Last year she received the Directors’ Guild of Canada Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Mini-Series for her work on Hallmark’s Mystery 101: Dead Talk. She is currently working as producing-director on OWN’s upcoming series Kings of Napa for Warner Horizon and Harpo Productions, which will première in early 2022.
Tokens was created, written and directed by Winnifred Jong. It was developed with WIDC, Telefilm Talent to Watch and Bell Fund. It became the first short-form series to be nominated for the Members’ Choice Series Ensemble Award at the ACTRA Awards in Toronto and went on to receive four Canadian Screen Award nominations (including Best Writing) and winning for Best Direction.
“Creating Tokens was a light bulb moment. And by doing so, I realized what it means to take up space and give voice to marginalized communities. It means I can’t go back. It means I will ask for diversity and inclusion on my sets in front of and behind the camera,” said Jong, accepting the award.
Working the Scene in Colour is a live reading initiative bringing talented writers and actors of colour and Indigenous communities together to perform original scenes from completed scripts and works in progress. Selected scenes are read by ACTRA actors in front of a live audience.
Jessica Meya is the co-founder of Working the Scene in Colour and an award-winning writer who has written for Hulu’s Holly Hobbie, CBC Gem’s Detention Adventure and CTV’s Children Ruin Everything. Meya began her writing career in her hometown, Ottawa, when she wrote and produced her short film, Still (2010). In 2018, she was a recipient of a Breakthrough Artist Award presented by Ben Watkins (creator of Amazon’s Hand of God) and the Toronto Screenwriting Conference. In 2020, she was a recipient of the Banff World Media Festival’s Diversity of Voices Initiative sponsored by Netflix. Jessica is a graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s Bell Media Prime Time Television Program.
Louis Taylor is the co-founder of Working the Scene in Colour, whose career in the arts and entertainment field has spanned over 40 years as a producer, actor, dancer, writer, director (both in theatre and film), and assistant director. His award-winning short films have screened at over 25 film festivals worldwide and have aired on PBS, Bravo, Canadian Reflections (CBC), Zed TV (CBC) and Czech Television. In 2020, he and his child, Altair Pflug-Taylor, completed their first web series, Spawn and Geezer. It launched in February 2021 on Seeka TV. The two are planning a second season and are developing a slate of projects through their production company Shining Trauma Pictures.
“We’re so grateful for what you do as actors and how you help writers do their best work,” said Meya. Added Taylor, “We are amazed to be offered this award created to honour the efforts of those following in a titan’s footsteps.”
ACTRA Toronto’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee Co-Chairs Lisa Michelle Cornelius and Samora Smallwood said in a statement, “The Sandi Ross Award winners are nominated and chosen by ACTRA Toronto’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. Winnifred Jong, Jessica Meya and Louis Taylor were top choices for 2020 because their work has positively and directly influenced the lives and careers of so many of our members. It only makes sense that our folks would choose the industry professionals who go above and beyond to illuminate diversity in the work they do.”
Jani Lauzon, ACTRA Toronto’s 2021 Award of Excellence recipient, worked with the late Sandi Ross. She spoke of her legacy and reflected on some of Sandi’s words of advice to her years ago: “If we are supportive of each other’s stories; if we tell stories that are inclusive – then, in fact, there is room for everyone. There’s room for all of us.”
Said ACTRA Toronto President David Gale, “It’s fitting that on this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination we are honouring champions of a more inclusive media with awards named after Sandi Ross, who broke through glass ceilings and smashed colour barriers and whose work for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion forever changed our union and our industry.”
Past recipients of the Sandi Ross Awards include Sinking Ship Entertainment and director Dawn Wilkinson (2016), creator Nathalie Younglai and Hungry Eyes Media (2017), Tonya Williams and Shaftesbury’s Frankie Drake Mysteries (2018), and Thunderbird Entertainment and writer/producer Floyd Kane (2019).
The awards were conceived by the ACTRA Toronto Diversity Committee under past Co-Chairs Sedina Fiati and Farah Merani as the #SharetheScreen Awards and were renamed in honour of ACTRA Toronto past president Sandi Ross who passed away just before their first presentation in 2016. Sandi Ross was the first woman and person of colour to be president of ACTRA Toronto and was the founder of ACTRA Toronto’s first diverse talent directory, Into the Mainstream. In its current online form, Diversity.ACTRAonline.ca, the directory continues to be a useful tool for producers and casting directors looking to cast the world in Canada.
ACTRA Toronto’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee advocates on behalf of ACTRA Toronto’s self-identified physically and culturally diverse performers and calls for a more inclusive media industry.
ACTRA Toronto is the largest organization within ACTRA, representing more than 15,000 of Canada’s 27,000 professional performers working in recorded media in Canada. An advocate for Canadian culture since 1943, ACTRA is a member-driven union that continues to secure rights and respect for the work of professional performers.
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Karen Woolridge, Public Relations, ACTRA Toronto
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