Black History Month – How TV Writer Ian Steaman is using his talent and experiences to shape minds and inspire Canadians
In 2021, The Black Screen Office developed a $750,000 Script Development Fund, in partnership with Rogers Group of Funds and the Canadian Independent Screen Fund, to provide BPOC writers with direct access to script development funding and build more equitable access to creators from diverse communities.
Recently, we caught up with Ian Steaman, TV writer and recipient of the Black Screen Office fund, and he shared how his life has influenced his creative process and how he hopes to inspire the next generation of Black youth through his words.
Prior to becoming a TV writer, Ian spent a majority of his career working in the music industry as a Music Executive. Working mostly in the world of hip-hop, Ian achieved great successes including Grammy awards and #1 Billboard chart hits, all while fostering strong connections in the music industry.
Today, he shares how his experiences have influenced his life and his latest project, Shine.
The events from the last year have sparked worldwide dialogue on the perpetuation of racial injustices experienced by the Black community. How have these conversations impacted you and what words of inspiration would you say to the next generation of Black Canadians?
To be completely honest, I’ve had mixed feelings about the aftermath and impact of the events of 2020 and the so-called racial reckoning they inspired. On one hand, it’s an inarguable good the events created a level of dialogue and social justice engagement within our society that hasn’t been seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and, in some ways, may have even surpassed it.
On the other hand, what was a racial “awakening” for many is essentially the default for how many Black people have lived their entire lives. Even setting aside day-to-day systemic prejudice and racism, there’s been an ongoing trauma from having to witness and process a steady stream of other incidents before those of 2020 – from at least Trayvon Martin in 2012, Mike Brown in 2014, and also here in Canada with Dafonte Miller in 2016 and Regis Korchinski-Paquet in 2020.
So as the reckoning unfolded, I thought to myself: “Even after all those things, it’s only now that you get it?” But if there’s something positive and inspiring I’ve taken from it all, it’s the hope that this generation that has led the charge around these issues and the fight for change, continues to do so.
There’s power in community and so far, they’ve used that power to make our society more attuned to these issues and more open to discussing ways to address them. Continuing to leverage that power is the way to ensure this is a permanent paradigm shift from the status quo, and not merely an aberration.
Your drama series, Shine, dives into the dynamics of a mentor-mentee relationship. Why do you believe mentorship is so critical to empowering the next generation of Black youth and how have your lived experiences influenced your work as a screenwriter?
Shine is a one-hour drama which, I guess, is my attempt to try and make sense of what it’s meant to give my life to this music and culture. As big as hip-hop has grown, it still gets such a (pardon the pun) bad rap.
Hip-hop is more accurately described as a culture than just a music genre, and is really a way of being and looking at the world – that’s what Shine tries to capture.
The centerpiece of the show is an exploration of a mentor-protege relationship between two rappers, C-Kay, a superstar who has allowed fame and success to change him to the point he no longer takes the craft of being a hip-hop artist seriously, and Zee, an aspiring artist who’s an upper middle class, biracial girl who really believes in the power of hip-hop to be a vehicle for change in the world.
In a way, they both need each other to fill in the pieces they are missing or have lost within themselves to become the best artists they can be. Zee can learn from C-Kay’s experience and success, gained and lost. He can learn from her passion, hunger and sense of purpose.
It ties back to what I was saying before about the Black Lives Matter movement and how the next generation, because of their energy and enthusiasm, built the power to set the agenda for social change despite their youth and relative lack of experience.
Realizing that a student can become the teacher and vice versa, as happens in Shine, is a powerful concept and a lesson I hope people, no matter which one they are at the moment, take from the show in order to maybe discover and gain or regain their own sense of empowerment or purpose.
Even though I’m still pretty new in the TV industry myself, I am trying, through mentorship programs and the writer’s group I founded, to mentor others so they can navigate their own journeys with purpose and understanding.
Writing television, you hold the power not just to entertain but shape minds, influence thinking and inspire people. It feels like a tremendous responsibility, but it came at the perfect time in my life where I’ve finally developed a really strong sense of who I am and what it is I want to do with the rest of my life, and it’s felt really natural and comfortable shouldering it.
Beyond Black History Month, how do you think we can all continue to celebrate Black History?
I love Black History Month, but I am definitely from the school of thought that Black History is just history. I don’t say that to make light, but rather to make the argument that it needs to be interwoven into the fabric of everything that we learn and experience – not just during February but also in a way that informs how we look at the world we live in every day through our news, media and culture.
The more we can engage with this history through that year-round lens instead of one month of the year, the better our society will be for it.