Shane Marriott Revives 1920s Black Culture in “The Porter”

Shane Marriott directly attributes his burgeoning career to all the giants who have walked before him. ”I am a product of every actor that I have seen in film and on television. They have all inspired me. But if I had to narrow it down: Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Bryan Cranston, Leonardo DiCaprio, Wesley Snipes and Jamie Foxx. Any time they come out with a project, it ignites the fire within me.” Distilling his rise to a single project or moment in time would be nearly impossible. His acting journey has been an amalgamation of wonderful experiences. “My first gig on Killjoys was when I knew that I had chosen my ideal profession. I knew I wasn’t going to do anything else the minute I arrived on set. I consider all of my jobs highlights because nothing is guaranteed so I cherish each moment that I get to have another opportunity doing what I love. If I had to select, working on Marry Me This Christmas and The Porter were both my personal highlights. The cast and crew were amazing. Everyone felt like family.”

Currently, he stars as Sticks in The Porter and relishes the chance to portray an unjustly forgotten history. “The Porter is a show focused around the 1920’s (post WW1) shining light on the brotherhood of sleeping car porters, their significance in Canadian history, the opportunities and doors they opened for immigrants in Canada that is not really talked about or taught in schools and media. Not to mention some drama, romance and cliff hangers that’ll keep you on the edge of your seats. I was very excited to work on a period piece. From when the breakdown went out, it was something I wanted to be a part of. I enjoy them and hope to be a part of more in the future. A lot of research was done for the prep: articles, videos, interviews, novels, anything I could pretty much get my hands on that would give me an insight to particular mannerisms, style and the world during this period overall.” 

The show primarily depicts Montreal and specifically St. Antoine, known as “Harlem of the North” at the time. “St. Antoine, known as Little Burgundy, housed English speaking Black Canadians. It was a place where porters stayed in boarding houses operated by the railway companies because it was close to their jobs. Soon after, Black-run businesses that catered to them started to populate the area. This is all linked to the history of the Canadian railway.”The close ties between St. Antoine and the railroad industry mirror the interdependence of the characters themselves to the railway, which serves as a vital lifeline to lay the groundwork for the thrust towards Black unionization. “I’d describe their relationship as a unique reliance on one another. If it weren’t for the railways, they probably wouldn’t have connected with other Black people in other provinces or even joined together to fight for workplace equality which eventually opened up immigration into the country. They were empowered through strength in numbers. The more people that agreed to fight for equal treatment in the workplace, the more their voices would be heard and a change could be made.”

Shane wants the audience to walk away having a more rounded sense of Canadian history – and an understanding of how ugly parts of that history are. Canada is not and never has been an egalitarian paradise, especially for its Black citizens. “What we are being taught in school and media about Canada isn’t fully true and that a lot of information has been left out. Canada wasn’t the land of the free that they preach. They too had to fight to not pass the Jim Crow laws of the south. They had racist immigration laws (limited percentage of races allowed in the country), unfair working conditions, and poor treatment many had to endure as sleeping car porters. Black people were limited to only work as porters no matter their qualifications. Their many attempts for workplace equality and the birth of the first Black-led union opened many doors.” The Porter premieres on CBC starting February 21st.

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Shane Marriott Revives 1920s Black Culture in “The Porter.” Photo Credit: Jessie Addo.

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