As one of the most culturally diverse countries on the planet, Canada is teeming with more success stories than you may even realize. In Complex Canada’s new series Hidden Gems, presented in collaboration with Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum and Fela, we shine a light on incredible Jamaican-Canadians as they re-discover their heritage. They visit iconic locales across the country, from restaurants to galleries to neighbourhoods, that are revelations in their own right. All throughout, Joy Spence, our gracious host and Appleton Estate’s Master Blender, helps our subjects unearth the Jamaican excellence that connects them.
In our debut episode, we travel to Winnipeg to visit acclaimed director Charles Officer on the set of his upcoming series The Porter, the largest Black-led production in Canada to date. Born in Toronto to a Jamaican mother and British father, the accomplished actor (Bury the Lead), documentarian (The Skin We’re In), and feature filmmaker (Nurse.Fighter.Boy) has made a career of telling stories that honour and delve into his heritage.
Here, Charles and Joy meet to explore their parallels, from his detailed and authentic approach to filmmaking to her refined and holistic approach to crafting Appleton Estate rums. Jamaica is at the heart of both of their crafts—it is intrinsic to the stories Charles tells through his movies, as well as the ones Joy tells through her luxurious blends made in the lush Nassau Valley. They’ve both lived different iterations of the Jamaican experience, from Toronto to London, and have translated those journeys into greatness. Officer has changed the face of Canadian film, while Spence—the first female Master Blender in the spirits industry—has changed the face of Jamaican rum.
The two take their conversation to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which provides no shortage of inspiration for the next story Charles might want to author.
“My Jamaican heritage has been a real driving force in and around the stories that appeal to me and the stories I want to tell, because I haven’t seen a lot of those stories told specifically where I grew up in Toronto,” says Officer. “When you come from a cultural background and you weren’t born there, I think some of us have a yearning to connect with that origin…. Each and every one of us has an incredible story in that exodus to North America that we don’t know about.”
Watch the first episode of Hidden Gems above.