(New Post) A REAL conversation about Degrassi….#tbt

This post may or may not get me in trouble but, either way “the trouble” will ultimately be a big release and the deflating of the elephant in the room. 

I was very blessed to grow up on television. My longest gig was on the the show Degrassi: TNG where I had the chance to play the character “Hazel” for 6 seasons.  I had an amazing experience on Degrassi, I was a teenager on top of the world! I traveled, I met fantastic people and I started to develop a fan base, there wasn’t much more I could ask for….

Actually I lied there was a few more things I could ask for and that was mainly to get a CHANCE. In my 6 year run of being on the show I only had ONE major story line around my character and all the other episodes I was the token dose of color or a glorified extra. This experience was incredibly frustrating for me. I was on the show when I was just starting to recognize my own potential and let my imagination run free and so the last thing I wanted was to be stifled creatively on a major platform. Whenever I would talk to the executives about ideas I had or expanding my character in any way, it would always get shut down or pushed to the side. I worked on an album with Universal Canada while doing the show, to get out some of my creative frustration out and suggested to some of the people at Degrassi to let me sing and instead they made my character a “bad singer” lol. It’s easy for me to laugh at the ridiculousness of that now but at the time it wasn’t funny at all! I used to think I was crazy while being on the show because as much as I would be included in episodes and advertising campaigns it always felt like there was another force trying to shut me out. I ignored it though, tried my best to continue to plead my case for why I believed my character should be developed a bit more and continued to do my best on the show and be grateful for the opportunity. So many people had pointed out to me that as black girl in Canada it was great just to see my face on the screen and so I continued on.

Recently I had a conversation with a filmmaker in Canada who had worked with me while I was on Degrassi and he unfortunately confirmed to me the feelings that I had always had but never wanted to admit to. Degrassi had an issue with my race. He told me how the writers and producers had no intentions of developing the story lines of my character unless it was to enhance the story of one of their other white characters. They had some plans for some of the other black characters on the show but their ideas were only to cover the usual stereotypes that we see of people of color on television teen pregnancy, petty theft, basketball, broken family homes etc and he usually had to fight with them to think out of the box with those characters to not have them go down the road of the usual cliches. He told me to get them to do the one major story line that my character had was like pulling teeth and after a few more years of working on the show he had to leave because of the blatant hierarchy system that they had in place and he couldn’t work with people who didn’t share the same beliefs.

This conversation, hurt me but it didn’t surprise me. I knew I wasn’t crazy all those years and it sucks to think that there are people who think like this and treat kids this way but unfortunately this is the world that we live in. I’m always offended when I read or hear someone say “Hazel was my least favorite character” or “Hazel didn’t do shit on the show” I recognize that “Hazel” is not me and I shouldn’t take it to heart but it always stings just a bit because I know that “Hazel” and myself never got a chance to shine on the show for very ugly reasons.

TV land and the entertainment business is a tough place. Its sad to think that we still live in a world where we have to fight for equal rights whether it be for marriage or just to get a story line on a tv show. At the end of the day, I would’ve loved to see some things done differently while I was on Degrassi but I was still grateful for my opportunity because it helped me in many ways for my career.  The experience on that show has strengthened me and inspired me to keep fighting and working my damnedest to change someones perspective on women of color and it inspired a lot of my ideas for my web series “Black Actress”. No one said the journey was going to be easy and that’s what keeps it interesting, if I can learn to turn a negative into a positive I think I’m going the right way.

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Comments

  1. This puts a lot into perspective. I was not a big fan of Hazel, but that one episode where your character actually admitted her heritage was good. I kept saying to myself I wish the writers would make a better storyline for her. However, this clarifies it more. Trouble or not, I’m definitely glad you shed a bit of light on this topic. Props to you, Andrea.

    • Thanks John, honestly from the way they used to write her, I wasn’t a fan of “Hazel” either lol

      • Andrea, eventhough you really didnt have a big role in the show you and Aubrey are the only characters i really remember or care about. I loved every scene you were in!

        • I grew up with degrassi, and I already noticed that hazel never had major story lines.. yet she was still my favorite. Jazel ended up messed up! It bothered me how that storyline was written. I loved Jazel. And I hated how Hazel was a ‘hidden’ Muslim… No offence against any muslims. But in my opinion it just didn’t fit.. That episode could’ve been just cut out of the season.. it wouldnt make a difference to hazel’s storyline anyway… pfff sucks reading this, but Im happy you posted it, it sheds some light on the show and that racism is still present this days.

          • I know it’s almost 2014 and I’m so late to this party but I have to ditto this statement. That whole episode was a obvious post 9/11, let’s throw in a Muslim- plot. It was really frustrating because it issue never popped up again. They showed no development with her Islam and her lifestyles. For instance what does her parents think about her partying. There was absolutely no conflict for Hazel afterwards. I would rather them not have had her a Muslim. It didn’t fit at all. Not to say that Muslims all have to fit one type of characters but don’t throw them in there for the sake of diversity. People can see straight through that.

  2. I’ve always respected you ever since I stumbled upon you & Shannon but after reading this that respect has gone up.For you to say ” hey this may or may not get me in trouble” BUT I’m still going to speak my mind speaks VOLUMES. Ever since I got of age to recognize and understand the plots behind a lot of shows that have a diverse cast it seemed a lot of ” the girl that got pregnant” the boy that came from a rough home and ended up on the wrong side of the law” all these plots for people of color that did nothing but belittle and make it seem as if that’s all a black male or female could do or offer up to the world.It was sad,we have had those shows that showed the very opposite i.e ” Fresh Prince Of Bel Air,Family Matters,etc”.I don’t know the reasoning behind this thought process,this need to limit black actors/actresses in such a negative light. I can only hope time can bring up more positive changes in the entertainment industry :) Thank you for having the courage to speak out,I believe a lot of people need to know this information,this side of the business.You may want to step outside the box but it doesn’t mean those around you want you to & will allow you to do so.Sometimes it takes a complete change up to get where you really truly need to be and want to be.

  3. I love the honesty in this post. I love Degrassi and always felt like they put your character on the back burner.

  4. Always wondered why the part was small, makes me angry to know the truth. When I watched I was naturally drawn to your character being that you looked most like myself. lol. But you’re right about having a platform now and you are using it to the utmost. You make me proud both as a black woman and (for lack of better term) a normal person. You and Shannon crack me up, but you offer real-world perspectives on everyday life and it’s refreshing. xox

  5. Wow… I’m just in shock and like you Andrea, I believe I had those thoughts also in the back of my mind. I didn’t want to see it like that and its a horrible shame this this world is like that. I would love to see so many more people of color doing the best for themselves in any way possible. No offense to anyone but people of color look better on screen anyway. Degrassi was a great show, mostly because of the original cast which definitely includes you.

    At times I did feel that they made your character kind of shady which was corny because it’s like, for the people that are watching the show they’re looking at you, as a “black female actress” and probably piecing together that all of our women really act like that… When in reality…It’s them. I applaud you for speaking up and having the courage to ask about better ways to better your character on the show even though those requests were shut down, I feel that it takes a lot to even ask about that, because some people just go with it without questioning it and those with thoughts of it shake those thoughts off like its nothing. Hazel was still a great character in my eyes, and I knew you could sing even before they did that mess to your character. Our voices are better that’s why. The things they can’t handle that’s all. It’s why they have us playing roles according to how we look and try to match them with false stereotypes. Its Stupid. But, we can’t even be mad because we have people out there trying to prove them right which is sad. We need more people like you. Trying to promote the right things and standing up against things like that. “Turn a negative into a positive!”

    You have so much talent and I know you’re not about to let that fade because of crappy things like that, that have already presented themselves. At least you found out when you did and I just want to wish you luck and say that you give people like me hope. Keep doing what you do best and I look forward to seeing more. I am definitely gonna donate when I get some money before the time is up!

    • Thanks lady! The truth hurts sometimes, I was glad to be told the truth though because I needed it to move on.

      • Yup.. I guess that quote sort of kicked into play “The truth will set you free” ? But I love you so much thanks for reading that, I know it was a lot. LOL

  6. How do you explain Liberty and Jimmy then? They are black and had tons of major story lines? I appreciate your honesty and loved Hazel I’m just wondering how it was racist if other black characters had major story lines…

    • “They had some plans for some of the other black characters on the show but their ideas were only to cover the usual stereotypes that we see of people of color on television all the time, teen pregnancy, petty theft, basketball, broken family homes etc.”

      As I mentioned, they did give some characters of color, story lines but the stories always had to fit with in a stereotype. Or they tried to down play a lot the actors actual skills and talents.

      • but both Liberty and Jimmy were from well to do homes. Liberty’s parents were lawyers, and Jimmy was the one who had his ipod stolen.

        Anyway i’m not trying to defend Degrassi because I think even watching the show growing up, I always subconsciously knew Hazel was the ‘token black friend’. Its just such a shame because the reason fans never really liked Hazel was because she was a background character, and never got the development she needed. Hazel wasn’t the only one either, Kendra and Leia later on never got sufficient character development either, they were just there to add a few Asian faces to the show.

        • But Liberty got pregnant and Jimmy’s dad cheated on his wife, but never told her. Jimmy also played basketball. So Andrea’s right.

        • Unless I’m mistaken since it’s been a while since I’ve seen the past seasons- didn’t Jimmy and Liberty come after Hazel, for the most part (if not entire part)? Everything she is saying can be true even if these characters are better representation. What she’s saying about Degrassi is true for her experience during that long stretch of the show, it won’t necessarily be true for Degrassi 5 years from now, or whatever.

          I think it could be fair to say Degrassi got somewhat better over the years (though again feels stagnant in this current season of super-majority white characters), but during the time Hazel was a character they were definitely not being fair and good in their efforts to be inclusive.

    • Not throwing shade but Jimmy and Liberty were definately stereotypes. Liberty was a teen mom and Jimmy was a basketball player. I don’t know if you forgot about that or didn’t watch the season all the way through but as an AVID Degrassi watcher and fan I always wondered why the black characters on the show didn’t have enough of a role and if they did it was bull. I loved when Hazel finally came out about her culture and I really thought they were going to develop the character more after that and this definately explains why I was disappointed. Still love you Andrea:)

    • One thing about Liberty is while she did get more major story lines, they were usually seen through the eyes of someone else. The episode where she struggles with math is all about Emma’s perspective, and when she gets pregnant we only really see how JT and Toby are coping with it. We don’t get to see Liberty much except when she’s relevant to the white characters

      • Not to mention that when she finally gave birth it was in the B-plot and the majority of that episode dealt with Craig pursuing his music career. It is very sad that this is the world we live in. And to this day they continue to do it, the least developed characters in Degrassi are Dave, Connor, Marisol and Mike Dallas.

  7. sweetheartswan says:

    Andrea,

    As a kid watching Degrassi I looked up to you and Aubrey because you both were of color. I always wondered why they kind of pushed hazel away and was never truly developed. She was my fave charcter along with jimmy and I applaud you for having the courage to speak on this because I know a lot of people wondered why Hazel never could be great. Its sad that this happened. Smh. congrats on everything!

  8. Oh wow, I agree sort of but I also have to add that the show is sexist. Whenever the guy characters do something they’re in the okay, and we have to understand. Like for example if Eli does something wrong he’s bipolar. The girl characters if they do something are a bitch, slut, etc. I find it wrong and the writers really need to learn how to understand cultures and women better. It’s a shame that a good show is just now trash.

  9. I been sharing and sending this post around because I think it deserves to be read. It always bothered me that Hazel never got anymore significant storylines. There was so much potential with the character but they didn’t do anything. You are a very talented actress such a shame they wasted it!

  10. Ishshah Fluker says:

    In the words of the math nerd in Mean Girls “don’t let the haters stop you from doin yo thang” haha but seriously I love how honest you are in this post and in your videos. Hazel was always my favorite on Degassi because she looked like me lol I was so sad to see her go and honestly stoped watching around that time because including you so many other good characters were leaving. I started watching it again years later and couldn’t even get through a month of episodes because it sucked so bad. The writing on the show could have been so much better had they adapted the story lines of the existing characters better instead of being racist. Hazel could have become one of the most popular characters on that show. Sadly when people talk about it usually everyone only remembers Page or Emma and Jimmy (him only for his career now). I’m sorry things were the way that they were but hopefully if more black actors and actresses stand up and talk about this then it will stop happening and the future generation wont have to deal with this. I’m really glad I read this because I always wondered why Hazel’s part on the show was the way that it was.

  11. I respect you so much for just being “Real” with your fans. I was excited everytime I saw Hazel on degrassi simply because she looked like me. I love our culture and truly wish they gave your character more to say. But you’re giving Hazel a voice now. I pray that you are successful in everything you do. Continue to speak up!!!!
    Much love <3 ,
    Kayton

  12. Excellent post Andrea. And you see the same thing with Chantay awhile back and now more recently Marisol. Shameful.

  13. I KNEW IT! My sister and I would always question it but never gave it much thought as there was always (even from the jr. high series) a diverse cast and they would every now and then touch up on certain issues so essentially I wouldn’t question much. I love how brave you are for sharing this, great post!…Glad I stopped watching after your season lol

  14. Avid degrassi stan here……and I’m here for this. You are so right, they do so much with first generation canadian story lines on Degrassi its insane to think that Hazel, a Somali girl struggling with her identity in a post 911 world, wouldn’t have some more amazing story’s to tell. And to keep it 100 I still think jimmy was shot just for spinner to have a weird 3 season arch. Anyway Andrea you’ve more than proven to us who are here right now that you are a multi talented ingenious indivudual. Anyone who has yet to be won by you, is about to. #WinGirl

  15. I’m not really understanding the racism accusation. SO many main characters who were black had tons of main plots. The “stereotypes” were usually just temporary veils, only to reveal their true desires later on in the plots. Jimmy came from a family of lawyers-he certainly did play basketball, but he ended up as an artist. Did Liberty experience teen pregnancy? Yes. Have several other Caucasian characters on the show dealt with teen pregnancy? Yes. Even currently, the character of Dallas (who is black) is an extremely featured main character. The best friends of the show are consistently played by one Caucasian girl, and one girl of another ethnicity. As for petty theft? Spinner stole from JIMMY. As did Fiona steal from Holly J. KC (a white character) was a basketball player and a young father. I could go on, but I have to say I 1000% disagree with your accusation of racism.

    I cannot help but feel you are throwing out that race card a little too freely. The people of Epitome do not deserve these types of accusations. They are some of the nicest people in the business. This entire saga all sounds just a little too bitter. It’s good that you did express gratitude for your time on the show, but this post definitely did not seem gratuitous! I know you expected some reverberation from this post, and to be honest, I’m regretting that I took the time to react to it, but…you’re wrong.

    • I think you’re wrong.

      • Madison says:

        Stephen Stohn? Is that you?
        Anyways, your argument is invalid. Did you notice how much screen time Hazel had? When she was on the screen, which was rarely, she would always be next to Paige. There would be no Hazel if there wasn’t Paige. Do you see the similarity between Marisol and Katie? Or I could go way back. Degrassi Junior High. Susie and Caitlin? And where you talked about Mike Dallas, did you not see the episode where we find out that he has a son? And what about Degrassi’s couples and love triangles? Besides Hazel and Jimi, we haven’t seen one black power couple that everyone loved as much as Semma, Eclare, Fimogen, etc. Marisol and Mo shouldn’t even count as a couple. My point is, Andrea is right. Degrassi is racist.

    • Thank you for dismissing her real experiences on the show during her six year run. I’m sure she’s more aware of her behind the scene struggles than you are. But, really thank you for being that guy. That guy that takes a very personal statement and makes it all about YOUR feelings. Here’s the problem: there didn’t NEED to be a “temporary veil” on any of those characters. It’s pandering. It’s insulting to viewers. Could the writers have been more creative? Absolutely. Could they have avoided the usual old stereotypes to create dynamic characters? Absolutely! Could they have been more original when developing these characters? Absolutely. But they weren’t, and it’s a shame.

    • I think if “the race card” is part of your vocabulary and you use it in conversation, you’re automatically wrong. “The race card” is used to invalidate another person’s experience, because it’s “uncomfortable” for you to deal with topics of race and discrimination, therefore it’s easier to pretend that person’s (or racial groups’) experiences are fake or only used to bait and accuse white people. That term is used so that you don’t have to question yourself or society. It’s used to assume that “racism” is only blatant, and never subtle, or institutionalized, that society is never inherently racist. There is no “race card”. Only someone else’s truth and experience. It’s a privileged attitude, to choose to ignore and dismiss it by using terms like “the race card.”

  16. I think your post is highly out of line, there are several white cast members that have given main titles have never received a main storyline of their own. Some characters are meant to be support and nothing more. Your character was a secondary and not a main. There have been several other characters of color (and I assume your not closed minded enough to thing we as black women are the only color there is) that have been main characters with leading plots. As for the issues, it’s Degrassi, name a lead character there that hasn’t been through some type of stereotypical high school storyline? And what about Jake Goldsbie who played Toby? Surely you aren’t implying that he never got main storylines because he was Jewish? He was written as a sidekick and secondary character and remained one. Think and do your research before you post something. Do you even watch the show today? One of the strongest characters to come out this year is a black man who is praised constantly and given great storylines. Liberty was an amazing and strong female character and a personal role model of mine on tv at the time.

    I’m sorry if you felt that your potential as an actress was showcased the way you wanted but perhaps you were cast as the wrong character. I respected you greatly before this but you have lost it. When will we stop pushing ourselves back by constantly playing the race card? The world is not out to get us, we are strong black women, not victims.

    • I think I got a bingo here…

    • You are an idiot. You just compared stereotypes of high school to stereotypes of actual real human beings. I sincerely hope you find a hole and bury yourself in it because your “opinions” are a danger to anyone around you.

    • Wow Jessica, are you on crack?? Or have you just never watched an episode of Degrassi from that time period??

      You really just sat here and compared the story lines of Toby with those of Hazel?? Even though Toby was a secondary character, he still had WAY more than ONE major storyline episode…I didn’t even like his character and I can think of a couple off the top of my head (His struggle with bulimia when he was on the wrestling team, him struggling to date Kendra b/c of Spinner, his bar mitzvah, etc.). Plus, even as a secondary character at least Toby had LINES. Hazel was LITERALLY background material for 6 years on that show (minus her ONE episode…which could have been so beneficial to developing her further as a character). It also doesn’t make any sense given her tenure on the show. Other characters that failed to be developed (i.e. Kendra, Leia, Chester, etc.) were only there for a very short amount of time. Hazel GRADUATED off the show!! (Also reminds me of Chantay who received very similar treatment). Honestly, if Hazel could have received the same amount of character development in the six years that she was there as did Toby, I’d be more than happy.

      And why does she have to do research??? Did you not read the post either??? Clearly, this was only something she speculated until she got WORD from someone that used to work for the show that the producers on the show had no intentions to develop her character BASED ON HER RACE…so what…now we can’t share our experiences for fear of ignorant people like you who will come out and label it as “race carding”??? Wow, people today. I, as a woman of color, personally have never had an experience with discrimination, but I am aware that even today it exists. We are not living in a “post-racial era”. Open your damn eyes.

      On a brighter note, I will say that as of recent seasons the show has gotten better at showcasing more actors of color (still shaking my head at Mike Dallas being a teenage father though, and the baby mama is of course black as well).

      Anyways, thank you Andrea, this post has really opened my eyes. I sat watching Degrassi for so long waiting for your character to be developed, and I honestly didn’t think much of it until now. I always thought “I really like Hazel, why doesn’t she get more development??” I also thought she was finally making progress with that one episode (which made me really excited, b/c I’m also Somali!). Of course that never happened; but it’s truly sad that race was the issue. I’m glad you’ve moved on though, and I wish you all the best!!

      • Look at shows like Sleepy Hollow or Twisted and see the difference between those shows and Degrassi? Secondly, I’ll say this again, true diversity should be equaled meaning that the Black female characters should be involved with primary non Black characters on there such as Drew out Eli being involved with Marisol. Being secondary is not good enough.

  17. i never thought about it that way. You are right about racist the new stories are still like that. Did feel hazel was snubbed and Liberty too by the teen pregnancy thing. I used to watch the show up to 2010. Was a bit boring to me.

  18. I will preface my comments by saying that you absolutely have a case for saying that there is a type of racism in how people of colour are treated/used in the industry. Absolutely. Of course. But as a fan of Degrassi who has watched Degrassi Junior HIgh, Degrassi High, and most of the 12 seasons of Degrassi/TNG (AND I am a fan who is mixed-race, by the way), I think your allegations are bordering on slander. Actually I think they more than border on slander. I won’t go into all of my reasons, but one thing you said that completely baffles me is that whole bit about how they only give people of colour stereotypical storylines involving “teen pregnancy, petty theft, basketball, broken family homes etc” – Are you seriously watching the same show? Are you even on the same planet? I can name multiple white characters who have had all of these storylines. That is the essence of Degrassi. That everyone, no matter their ethnicity or background, goes through the same crap in adolescence. For goodness’ sake, Degrassi goes out of its way to make sure that most of their main characters of colour are portrayed as clean-cut and no different from any white characters in any offensive way. NEXT: I can also name a plethora of white characters (as well as non-white characters) who have been billed as “starring” but who are backburnered for most of their multiple year runs (for who-knows-what reasons). Because it happens. If you truthfully believe that this has only happened with black characters (because it seems like you’re not even really considering other characters of colour on the show), then you are not watching the same show I am.

    • Slander. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    • You’re missing the point. Those storylines are a problem because they are the -only- storylines characters of color are allowed to have. It doesn’t matter if white characters had those storylines too or not because they were also allowed to flourish OUTSIDE of those storylines. Characters of color during her time on the show were not allowed this equal privilege to be more than just a stereotype.

  19. Also notable the stereotypes you list: broken home: JT Yorke, Ashley Kerwin, Sean Cameron, Toby Issacs, Ellie Nash, Craig Manning, Emma Nelson, Alex Nunez, Jay Hogart and those are just a few that your familiar with.

    Petty theft was Spinner not Jimmy! And other non black characters

    Pregnancy: Manny, Emma, Liberty, Mia (again only a few)

    Basketball: Jimmy, Spinner, Sean, Toby, KC, Drew, Dave etc. not all black

  20. Degrassi is my life and I just wanted to let you know that this post has opened my eyes to what happened behind the scenes in those seasons. I have so much respect for you! Do you think this racism still takes place behind the scenes at Degrassi?

  21. Ok, so are you talking about just Degrassi when you were on? Or current Degrassi too? If you watch i dunno..

  22. Jackson Jackson says:

    The sad part about it is I remember your character but I didn’t know she was there for 6 seasons. I could’ve sworn it was like 2 or 1. That goes to show that they definitely should’ve gave her more storylines.

  23. *shrugs*

    Aubrey had plenty of story lines, and was always involved in main plots.

    So did Cassie Steele.

    Neither are White (I think Cassie is half white though so..)

    Not saying they aren’t racist, Degrassi is horrid at this point so who cares.
    But isn’t Ali a main character now? She’s had many many storylines.

  24. Kory Stephens says:

    Well, darlin’. Can’t say I disagree with you there.

    I’ve been a long time viewer of the show from 2002 til ’11. and I noticed the obvious dating back to the Liberty pregnancy storyline circa ’05. The way it concluded in Together Forever wasn’t B-plot worthy when it should’ve been on the forefront or at least make the episode a two parter ,but alas, the Gary Stuing of Craig Manning at the time prevailed. Bloody shame. Keep on shining, gorgeous. Don’t let the buggers get you down

  25. This doesn’t suprise me one bit, Hollywood itself is a very racist industry and it is hard for black actors to get decent roles, especially the non-stereotypical roles. Not only did they do push the Hazel character to the side, but they also made the Shantay character a second fiddle character, she was on the show for a long time and they never really gave her a real storyline. Liberty’s first boyfriend barely had any lines, and was a thug, Emma’s second boyfriend was a DJ(black male characters always either have to play basketball or be a rapper), the new Hockey team captain is a bully(the media always like to portray black men as threatening and aggressive), the only time that show ever really delt with race was when Danny was being discriminated against by the store clerk, Liberty being a token for that Sorority, and Hazel having problems with her heritage.

  26. Andrea,

    I thought you were fantastic on the show. I actually have written to the writers begging to give Hazel a larger role on Degrassi. The one response I got was that “it didn’t fit with the current stories–it wasn’t the right time.” I knew something was wrong with that statement because there were so many storylines they could have done. They wasted great talent and I am so sorry to hear how you feel. I just wanted to let you know that you were great and I am proud of you!

  27. Leeya Jackson says:

    It’s hella shady that you asked to sing and they made your character a bad singer. If you were doing an album at the time, that’s just rude of the writers. It wasn’t until I rediscovered you TGAW that I realized you actually COULD sing, so I know that had to have stifled your singing career a bit. It probably because you’re a better singer than the girl who played Ashely, and DEF a better singer than Paige.

    Some of these comments say that you may be quick to play the race card and are citing examples from the show as backup to why the show wasn’t stereotypical. Firstly, I hate that term, the ‘race card’: people being discriminated isn’t a game. The thing is, as mere viewers, we have no clue what went on behind the scenes of Degrassi. So maybe we should respect her reflection on her experience, because she spent seven years of her life on set

  28. Jeremy Williams says:

    Are you fucking stupid? First off, you were not on the show for 6 years. You were on from season 2 – 5. (Now let me count for you: 2, 3, 4, and 5 – that’s 4 seasons. Not 6. 4.) Second, just because YOU did not get any major storylines does not mean that Degrassi or Epitome is racist. And quite frankly your post is slander and Epitome has every right to sue. You’re talking about Degrassi here… a series that means so much to millions not because it is entertaining, but because it is diverse, inclusive, and covers real topics. Now, I’m going to take this really really slow for you since that’s clearly all you can handle. Dehrassi has been on the air for 33 years, all of which they have covered and dealt with African-American topics unlike any other show in the early stages of its time. Did you know that in the 80s Degrassi was the first teen series to talk about biracial dating?

    • she was actually on from season 1 – 5…

    • wait… are you really trying to tell her when she was on the show? are you really that arrogant? AND IT’S CALLED LIBEL NOT SLANDER YOU DUMBASS.

      • clearly she does not know how long she was on the show for.. she made her first appearance in season 1 and her last in season 5..

    • Someone needs to brush up on their understanding of racism. Racism isn’t a yes or no type of concept, there are varying degrees from severe things such as hate crimes, to smaller things such as stereotypes and assumptions.

      Also just because degrassi throws people of color a bone once in a while by covering African American topics, doesn’t suddenly absolve the show from wrongdoing. Having many viewers doesn’t absolve it from wrongdoing either, if anything that just makes it more important for the writers to do right by their impressionable viewers.

      You’ve also missed her point by deviating your argument with a bunch of logical fallacies. You, as and outsider, cannot invalidate her personal experiences with racism, as she has lived them.

      Finally, it is entirely possible for Degrassi to be racist, despite covering african american subjects. Especially if those african american subjects, are handled from a narrowminded pov.

  29. Here’s my take on it. The reason Hazel, as well as other characters, didn’t get many story-lines centered on her is because she was designed only as a black character. They wanted a black female character, so they made one. The problem is, they didn’t develop her beyond that role and as a result, didn’t know what to do with her. So, that brings me to Liberty.

    My take on Liberty is that her character was conceived as white or with no race in particular and only happens to be black because Sarah Barrable-Tishauer nailed her audition for the role. Her character is more developed because she was well-developed before she was cast. It’s also worth mentioning that Sarah is half-white, as is Drake, who played Jimmy.

    And to everyone naming other characters of color on the show who received more attention and story-lines, the fact that they did a better job with other non-white characters doesn’t mean they haven’t done a poor job with the ones who are black.

    I know it’s a mouth-full, but those are just my thoughts.

    • Madison says:

      Sarah actually auditioned for Manny…

      • Britney says:

        I know that, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t also audition for Liberty once they decided she wasn’t right for Manny. My point is just that she really impressed them as Liberty, otherwise she may never have even been considered for the role.

  30. i’m sorry, but i think you are just talking out of your ass right now. You are acting as if liberty was the only character on the show to get pregnant, depicting a stereotype that black teens tend to get pregnant. she wasn’t even close to the first character pregnant,

    Aubrey was not the shooter, he was the one getting shot. They could have stereotype and made him the one who brought the gun to school but they didn’t. He was a well off character and in most peoples opinions was not full of stereotypes of a typical black teenager. His only stereotype that showed through was his rapping skills, which he went off to be a famous rapper.

    You are slandering a show that has been on the air for years, just because you weren’t an important character? You were introduced as an extra and I know that all of my friends and myself thought your character was annoying and whiny from the very beginning. If the majority of fans had been interested in knowing more about your character, I’m sure we would have. But no one cared because Hazel was a horrible character, portrayed by an even worse actress who hasn’t been in anything since.

    Seriously, grow up and stop blaming the fact that you are a horrible actress on the Degrassi writers.

    • Strawman and Red Herring. Look them up, because your argument is full of them.

      There is no correlation between Liberty’s being a stereotype being annulled just because other characters got pregnant first. That misses the point entirely. Other, non-poc characters getting pregnant is irrelevant, because those non-poc characters were allowed storylines outside of those within which they could flourish. While the poc characters were only given stereotypical storylines.

  31. This is out of line. Calling the entire franchise racist because YOUR character didn’t get many storylines is just petty and like someone said above, it’s kind of slanderous. Hazel’s purpose was not to generate a fanbase or break boundaries or do anything other than provide for other characters. (Jimmy, Paige, etc.) There’s a place for every character in the Television world, Hazel just happened to be the sidekick.

    You introduce dimension from the beginning; Hazel was always flat and just there, and downright mean for the majority of her time. If she were to do anything else, it would have been out of character.

    Jimmy, Liberty, Manny, Marco, Alli, Dallas – all characters of color who have incredibly prominent roles.

    If I remember correctly, most of the stuff you listed (teen pregnancy, petty theft, basketball, broken family homes) has been given to white characters too. And you’re really throwing basketball in there? 98% of the Degrassi population has played basketball at one point or another.

    I’m really shocked that you posted this, actually, and you’ve definitely lost a lot of respect.

  32. Okay I don’t mean to be rude but this post is entirely whack. You have it all wrong. I have watched degrassi from season 1 and still am to this day, season 12. Your character was credited as a main due to the amount of episodes you were in. However you were brought on the show to be a sidekick of another character, Paige Michalchuk. You weren’t meant to always be in the spotlight. You had your chance and maybe your episode didnt get the best reviews, but the writers kept you around because you were always a great side kick and good friend to Paige!
    About your comment on how you are not the only black character to be ignored, but that they all are. There is actually endless arguments to this statement. Original character, Liberty Van Zandt had an incredible amount of storylines. She was also the exact opposite of a stereotypical African American teenager. Libertys parents made lots of money and had a successful family. Liberty got outstanding grades all throughout highschool, was involved in many school activities, and was valedictorian of her graduating class. Yes, along the road she did have a baby as a teen, but that was simply added in for dramatic purposes and an interesting storyline. There has been white girls or of other races besides african american to be pregnant or have a scare. Such as Manny, Emma, Mia, Jenna, Alli, and Spike. Liberty is currently the only black girl to have this happened to them. Another original black character from the show, Jimmy Brooks, was in the spotlight most of his time at Degrassi. He had a successful family growing up and graduated with good grades and a bright future ahead. Current black character on Degrassi, Marisol Lewis, was brought on as a sidekick/ best friend of Katie Matlin. She is one of the many other side kicks put in the same position you were in. They get their fair share of screen time but have never were extremely focused on like certain characters were. Other current black characters consist of Dave Turner, who’s has been around for a while and has had a lot of intense or funny storylines, and Mike Dallas who was just brought on this season, and is going through a ton of character development as the season continues. Dallas is one of the most focused characters on the show at the moment, and what do you know, he is of color.
    You are still young. You could still have a lot for you and your career. But blaming the people at epitome for your lack of success in the business is an extremely immature way to handle things. Your music obviously didnt work out well, probably because it wasnt good enough, and music isn’t your calling. But as far as I know, you are a fantastic actress. You were brought on the show as an important characters’ sidekick, so how much development did you expect. The only person you can blame for your lack of success is yourself. You still have a lot of time to get an acting career, but you chose to sit around and be disrespectful to past shows you have been a part of. Epitome is one of the friendliest companies in the industry, and are far, far from racist. You can only play the race card so many times, and in sincerely hope that nobody uses this as sympathy just to give you donations.
    All I want to say is that your facts are wrong. You have a lot for you in the industry, Andrea. So you better clean up your act, now. I wish you the best in all your work in the future. Peace.

    • If LIberty is a Black Canadian, she can’t be an African-American…

      • Which part can’t she be, the African part or the American part? I have no idea what Liberty’s family’s country of origin was supposed to be (and it is a good point that many black people have roots in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic or Haiti or South America more recently than Africa, but a lot of people A) can’t tell a person’s specific ancestry just from looking at them and B) don’t realize that “black” is a more acceptable term these days — it used to be considered politically incorrect — so, without knowing someone’s exact national heritage, they use “African American” in an attempt to be as polite/inoffensive as possible).

        But if you’re saying she can’t be American because she’s Canadian, that is false. Canada is part of North America, and thus Canadians are also Americans. So are Mexicans. For that matter, people from Argentina or Paraguay could also be described as American, as they live in South America — in fact, a lot of Latin Americans do identify as just “American” and get very irritated by the misappropriation of the term to refer only to residents of the United States, thus excluding all other parts of the Americas. (In Spanish, there’s actually a word to describe a resident of the United States separately, which unfortunately we don’t have in English, hence the use of “American” because nobody ever bothered to come up with something more specific.) I know many Canadians hate being associated with the US — especially abroad, where the US doesn’t have a great reputation — but until Canada finds a way to remove itself from the continent of North America, the broad term “American” will still apply to its residents. Anyone from any part of the New World, aka the Americas, aka most of the Western Hemisphere (North America, South America, and both continents’ associated islands such as the Caribbean islands) can be considered “American” under its original definition.

  33. leonajess says:

    The way I see it:
    This is bold, very personal and brave. Opinions are a matter of perspective. I think Andrea is shining a light on something that she sees as a condition in entertainment and she’s working towards change. That is valiant and commendable. This post is an account of a personal experience regarding her career, the things she has seen and felt. The intent is that there be more choices for minority actors, who would like to empower and relate to the public through their characters and make a living through their talent and passion. This intent has brought Andrea to a place where she decided to become a creator and take control of her circumstance and, in the process, counter the current condition. Instead of succumbing, she is rising above it. Not only is this an extremely amazing thing to accomplish, it serves as an example to the rest of us that we can change our roles from reactive to proactive.

    Andrea, I applaud and support you every step of the way. Thank you for sharing something so personal despite the knowledge that there would be backlash. And I am so looking forward to this web-series!!!!!!! :)

  34. Andrea you should be happy. You got as many story’s lines as you did. Degrassi has always. Been open. To every. Group.of People . Maybe you weren’t meant to be the star. You thought you were Bad singing Jimmy. Rap was awful. On the show I never thought. He was going to hit it big in real life. In music. Kinda like your singing. You can blame the show that made you. If not for degrassi. Who would you be. It’s hard to. Be on set period you should be proud. You got the. Chance. To be on the show and that you got story lines Millions. would love to be you.

  35. Hey Hazel,

    I really enjoyed your blog and commend you for speaking out. Which so many are afraid to do. Have you ever considered starting your own series of shows? You don’t necessarily need the entertainment or media industry for this. I say this because, I’ve been on the same journey and trying to break-in to an industry that is over saturated with similar talent is quite hard, but there is no giving up in this journey. And I know you haven’t either. You will have the opportunity to tell all types of stories and people will be able to say, now I see her purpose. You and I and many in this world can create our own story, we do not need them.

  36. This might be a very unpopular opinion . I actually loved Hazel & still to this day my favorite character . I feel like she should’ve got more story lines , I don’t know the whole racist might’ve been misinterpret . Andrea you are my idol btw ! I love you !

  37. I always knew there was something going on! To have Hazel on for 6 years and have only ONE storyline. I knew something was up. At least the writers are trying to redeem themselves a little since season 10. I mean not all the minority characters are getting a shot, but we have Alli who has had some pretty big plots since her introduction. Dallas, who has only been on the show for a year and has had a decent amount of screentime. Dave, ehhh. Marisol has been put on the backburner though. So I think it’s obvious what they’re trying to do.

    I really appreciate you writing this and telling the truth about your Degrassi experience.

  38. Degrassi Insider says:

    As one of the executives Andrea is referring to, I need to set the record straight.

    To start, this “insider” she is referring to, does not exist. There is no director on the show who fits this description. Degrassi – like all TV shows – is run by writers and producers. Directors have literally zero input on scripts or character arcing. Television is a writers medium, and directors are never consulted on important issues like characters or storylines. This director she is referring to as an insider with insight into creative matters does not exist. Period.

    Degrassi is highly democratic. Almost every actor/character on Degrassi is given a chance to shine. Often given more than one opportunity, in fact. Its up to the actor to nail it, and if they do, they’re given more. It’s just that simple. Most characters on Degrassi were conceived as sidekicks or love interests – JT, Jimmy, Darcy, Ellie, Spinner, JT, Manny, Danny, Derek, Eli, Alex, and many others – were all sidekicks or love interests at first. Darcy is a perfect example. She was given one line in the car wash episode and jumped out immediately as a star and was brought back to do more and the character of Darcy grew and grew. Spinner is another perfect example of a sidekick who was so awesome we just had to give him more and more. It would surprise the fans to learn that almost every big Degrassi character came about in this accidental way. Toby, Terri, Emma and Ashley were supposed to be the leads of the show and they were all pushed aside by the sidekicks of JT, Paige, Manny, Jimmy, Spinner, Ellie and on and on. That’s how the show works. If you’re awesome, you’re given more to do. If you’re lame, you’re given less.

    Andrea was given a strong A plot to run with in second season. Her performance was flat and the episode ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’ was a dud. Of course some people loved Hazel, but the average fan did not t clamour for more Hazel eps. If they had, we would have delivered them.

    In contrast, Jimmy was a character who was given a chance to shine. At first he wasn’t great. I was one of the insiders who pushed to keep him alive and give him more to do. And over time Aubrey grew as an actor and started killing it. Look at Jimmy in season one and again at Jimmy in season three and it’s night and day. The actor worked at his craft and improved and was rewarded. Andrea did not work at her craft. But still, she was given a few chances to shine and she didn’t. She never knocked it out of the park, and if she had, she would have had many more storylines. It’s just that simple. If you’re awesome and the fans love you, you get more episodes. If Andrea is bitter, she can blame the fans who never wanted more of her.

    I know it is easier on the ego to blame racism than to admit your own shortcomings. What Andrea needs to know is that as an actress she didn’t kill it. She always seemed to think she deserved to be the star at all times, and could be very difficult on set. Andrea was by no means the only diva on set, but she was among the most disruptive. A number of directors – hell, all of them – complained about how disruptive she was on set. And her bad attitude could make it more difficult for other actors to focus and perform. If she was a spectacular actor all of this would be forgiven – as bad behaviour often is forgiven. But if you’re a subpar performer playing a character that few fans like, AND you have a terrible attitude and are disruptive on set and are selfish and egotistical and a total diva… Well, Andrea has nobody to blame but herself.

    And if she is truly so brilliant as an actor/performer where has she been in the last seven years? Her costar at the time, Drake, has done rather well for himself. Many of her costars have gone on to find fame elsewhere. But Andrea has done nothing.

    Finally, as an insider on the show during Andrea’s years I can’t stress enough how sensitive we were to issues of cultural diversity. Indeed, Degrassi has won many awards for its sensitivity, from mutliple Glaad Media Awards to a recent Peabody Award, which is the highest honour for television. Our record stands for itself.

    • This actually makes a lot of sense. It was the same thing with Chante and now it’s the same with Marisol.

    • “If you’re lame, you’re given less.”

      This could have been worded differently. You don’t fight fire with fire. You are an adult and should respond as one. Two wrongs don’t make a right. You can prove your points, but if you do so at least don’t stoop down to a lower level. Just saying.

    • In response to some people thinking Andrea is playing the race card, stop it! The majority of you were not there to witness what she has been through, how can you speak about something you know nothing about! @Degrassi Insider. Wow! So much for being classy. “Allegedly” you worked at degrassi with Andrea. You wrote that Aubrey was a horrible at first but you pushed for him. If that’s the case why not push for Andrea as well? How is an actor/actress supposed to improve their craft when no one will give them a chance? And yes, I know that Andrea had some one liners and Don’t believe the hype. It’s sad that Degrassi missed so many storylines with this character Hazel. I’m sure if you they would’ve “pushed” for her more, she would have improved but they didn’t give her the chance like they did the others. @Andrea Lewis I wrote you about this issue a few years ago, when I had one of the biggest degrassi pages “dtng myspace” on myspace. I hope I didn’t offend back then when you read it. At that time I wrote to you about what you shared with all of us. I did notice that you and other characters didn’t get that much airtime. I also wondered why they didn’t do more with your character besides just being the token black girl. I’m sure you didn’t want to admit to some fansite about how you felt. If the producers,directors, and writers would’ve just let the audience get to know more about hazel, I’m sure they would’ve liked her more or atleast get an idea of who Hazel really was. Anyways, good luck with everything. ;]

    • This is a BRILLIANT post and as an African-American viewer of Degrassi, I totally agree with every word of this.

    • “Insider”. That’s cute.
      Nobody believes you.

    • I agree, I love Andrea …but as an actress she was not that great, she still isn’t that great.

      She overacts, her acting reminds me of Kat Grahm(?) from the vampire desires.
      The over acting was really distracting sometimes honestly. lol

      • Just because you get an award in something doesn’t make it truthful.

        I’ve learned that diversity.. as we know it…doesn’t mean how many groups of people star on the show but it is Aldo means how much the people interact with each other and ..in this case, how realistic they are.

        Sarah has a very legitimate complaint. Sure,you have many different groups are on that show,yes, they do interact with each other and have the characters be in mixed dating. All of that is good but here is the problem with what I’ve been seeing on the show.. actually maybe a couple of things on the show. 1)most of the Black characters on there are like Sarah have said.. are put into lame motionless roles. Mind you that Liberty was involved in a mixed relationship with JT and that was great. However HE wasn’t the predominant character on there. As beautiful young woman she was becoming on that Degrassi, she could never get involved with the hot guys on there. Then JTgets killed! Wow.

        Another example Hazel. Mind you that Marco was gay (and is in real life).He was incredibly sexy and so was Hazel. Unless Marco wanted out,it seemed that her character was thrown in back of the bus. Lastly, let’s talk about Marisol. Very pretty girl. Drew once hit on her and she resisted..of course they made Marisol come off with an attitude but she end up with More which is fine but once again, she wasn’t going with the hit Drew Torres.

        I think the most well know Black/biracial character on there was Jimmy. All of the others are just there. Their story lines seem flat like Sarah said while the others seem more exciting. On this Degrassi its even worse other than Mike Dallas(and he’s not always shown on the character into diction on the TeenNick website) there are no blacks on there.

        No this isn’t the race card .Its a truth that is not being recognized. Sleepy Hollow is an example where a Black person is properly represented and that is why I like watching it. With Degrassi,the show seems to forget that they have Black fans and their desires should be met. Just because the this how have all the people on there doesn’t make it truly diverse. Too many of us don’t know the true meaning of it.

  39. Wow, interesting.

    However, I do want to say I always loved the Hazel character (and you) and the episode you did get, “Don’t Believe The Hype” was (and still is) one of my favorite episodes. I watch it all the time lol it was such a great episode. Sad you never got the chance to develop more. You are a very talented actress and singer!!

  40. I have to say something, especially to Degrassi Insider and all the others who are slamming Andrea’s choice to tell HER story of her Degrassi experience.

    Everyone’s experience is different. Were you there? No, none of us were. This is ANDREA’s experience and she is entitled to tell her story. Yes, there are two sides to every story, but you cannot accuse of her of throwing the race card,just because other Degrassi characters of colour are/were getting major storylines doesn’t mean that Andrea’s story isn’t true.The “black” characters with the major storylines also happened to be biracial (Lucy, Jimmy, Liberty, Dallas etc…). Let’s be real, in the industry the whiter you are, the better. You can have your opinion but don’t disregard her story. And let’s be real, this current generation of Degrassi is absolutely horrid. Yes, things are different on the show when it comes to characters of colour but that doesn’t mean that Andrea’s experience is irrelevant.

    And to Degrassi Insider (which I doubt you are), you have some nerve to bashing her character on HER blog post. Regardless of your personal feelings, at least have some class. Where’s Marco, Paige, Spinner? Cause the only “Degrassi” stars I know that are doing well are Nina, Shenae and of course Drake.Besides, as you put it, she’s doing nothing, so why don’t you donate to her Indiegogo campaign and makes “Black Actress” a reality. Oh, but wait nevermind, because according to you, she’s a diva and she is doing nothing as opposed to her Degrassi counterparts smh. Andrea will make it without your coins and that’s a fact.

    • “The “black” characters with the major storylines also happened to be biracial (Lucy, Jimmy, Liberty, Dallas etc…). ”

      I just had to comment on this part of your post as I found it not only offensive, but completely unfair, derogatory, and no better than the unprofessional behavior that made up what Degrassi Insider (By the way, if @DegrassiInsider does work for Degrassi, he/she should be fired/demoted for the clear lack of professionalism shown here. You should have just left this to the shows legal department and others. Now, you’ve only helped support Andrea’s claims by behaving the way you did.) said. You put black in quotation marks as if because those people are biracial they are less than black and they don’t count as black characters with major story lines. It’s offensive, it’s insulting, and it’s disrespectful. That’s not to say what you say about the industry is not true, but the way you went about making your point can be and would be seen as insulting to many biracial people. I’m sure you’ll attempt to say that wasn’t your intent, but then why bring up the point in the first place?Why put them in quotation marks? For that matter Andrea herself is multiracial.

      As for Andrea and this whole post, I have NO DOUBT that there is some truth to her experience on Degrassi. These are her experiences and she has no reason to lie or make up these things. She could have done this years ago if she really had some ulterior motive. The entertainment industry is still biased towards many stereotypes, despite the fact that actors of all races continue to shatter those expectations everyday. Race is still an unresolved issue all around the world. That’s clearly evident by all the comments on this post.

      At the same time, I agree with other people that this is slander, and she may have just set herself up for a lawsuit should Degrassi/Epitome choose to act on it. I also think that some characters are just bit characters and nothing more. Hazel was clearly one of those characters from the beginning. Not everybody is going go get a leading role. There are numerous examples of characters of all races being exactly that type of character on the show. Heck, some of them even only appear in one episode. All in all, I really didn’t enjoy her as a character on the show ( She seemed whiny, and annoying, and I just didn’t think she was that great of an actress. With the one exception being her reaction to Jimmy’s shooting on the show) but that doesn’t mean she could not have played a bigger role, or become a more important character, or become a better actress had she been given more to do and more chances to develop.

      • I stand by my comment because race and colorism does play a HUGE role in casting especially in the Canadian film and tv industry. Interpret what you will, I think you took my comment way too personally with the “not-black-enough” insinuation. The producers of Degrassi gave the major storylines to light-skinned, biracial actors and that was my point. Yes, Andrea is multiracial but she is also a brown-skinned black woman. Compare the roles of Jimmy, Liberty had to those of Chantay, Danny and even Marisol when it comes to the black characters on Degrassi and then you can talk to me. It’s a discussion, not a war of words, so if I’m “unprofessional” for stating my opinion, then that’s your issue not mine.Don’t you love that we can all agree to disagree!

  41. Well, whatever the truth may be, just for the record, I enjoyed “Don’t Believe The Hype”. I liked Hazel and wanted her to have more major storylines. I hope we get to see Andrea Lewis on another good show soon, that would be wonderful! <3

  42. People try to say systematic racism doesn’t exist in Canada, if this doesn’t prove how real it is over there then I don’t know what will. But I am not surprised none of the black characters really had their stories developed, if you are black in hollywood your job is to bring some diveristy. Your job is to help the leading white character, to be their support system or their enemy. Your job isn’t to shine, isn’t to gain a terrible amount of fans, we are simply the back drop and it is infuriating!
    Hazels only developed storyline was when she talked about her culture, but that is not good enough, black characters are more than their culture and more then just problems..like theft or pregnancy. well andrea you are a beautiful human being, if i had wrote this I would be cussing up a storm and damning every writer there, you’re a lot classier then i am.lol

  43. Thank you for this post; no wonder I thought degrassi was white centric despite having ” multicultural” cast;

  44. Thank you for this post Andrea. I’m ashamed at the amount of B.S. occurring in the comments right now and how people are trying to silence you and your experience. Thank you for speaking out and pointing out how casual racism is still a thing that is rampant in the industry, and well… everywhere really. I’ve never watched Degrassi, but I sincerely wish you luck in your future and I hope the industry grows to be more intersectional, inclusive and imaginative for you and those who follow in your footsteps.

  45. Thank you for sharing your experience, Andrea. I know actors and actresses of color across the board appreciate hearing your voice and have had similar experiences.

    As a white, female fan of Degrassi (well, former fan) I know I have no responsibility or control over what other fen say, but good lord I am embarrassed and ashamed of the majority of comments here.

    Stay strong. <3

  46. Andrea,

    This is a brilliant post and I applaud you for speaking out about the obvious problematic portrayals of minority characters on Degrassi — a fact which is sadly constantly ignored. I was only a fan of Degrassi up until the seventh season, but it was awful how the minority characters were always shoved into stereotypical storylines (if given storylines at all). Every character of color, if they were given anything to do, was given negative or stereotypical traits. Every LGBTQ character revolves around their sexuality and the stereotypes that embodies it. Disabled characters are virtually non-existent. On Degrassi, it was always about the white, heterosexual, able-bodied characters. Minorities were the sidekicks, the ones saved for a single Very Special Episode, and then shoved into the background to be ignored or forgotten. And if they ever rarely got their own storyline, it was always about how it affected the white, heterosexual characters. The show is rampant with sexism and misogyny too, as a poster above me pointed out. We’re meant to accept the excuses they make for the male characters, meant to forgive them for the awful things they do (and they did some awful things in the years I watched). But when it comes to the female characters, well, they were just a “slut” or a “bitch” who “deserved” the consequences they suffered.

    And, of course, I see in the comments people who want to defend Degrassi, to act like the show isn’t like this. It’s sad, but not unexpected. Not sorry to say though — they’re wrong. And I think tthey know, deep down, that Degrassi is completely problematic, but they feel the need to defend it in order to placate themselves. Which is just sad, really.

    I always enjoyed watching Hazel on the show and was sad when she was never given anything significant to do on the show. As a huge Palex fan, I particularly love the episode where Alex and Hazel learned to respect each other; it’s one of my favorite episodes ever, because it rang true and gave Alex and Hazel a chance to shine outside of Paige. It’s still disappointing to think about how Hazel was never given a chance to be the awesome character she could (and should) have been.

  47. whoever is accusing andrea of pulling the so-called “race card” (seriously, this term needs to fucking die) needs to turn their manifest destiny all the way down (yes, including other black people trying to disregard her experience).

    now, i never was a fan of hazel’s character, but that episode with her struggling with her muslim identity made my eyes lit up. finally, a dark-skinned black girl getting a plot that doesn’t center around a stereotype or just a token character. here we have a muslim girl who transferred to degrassi in a post-9/11 world and everyone is alienating her because of it. hazel was in the midsts of conforming with her friends and struggling with her identity. at the end, she put on her hijab to show solidarity with the muslim girl, and that was beautiful. i was hoping that there would be more of her struggling with her identity, but that never came up. she went back to being paige’s side-kick.

    andrea, your acting is phenomenal. it showed true promise in that episode, but since you were paige’s mean side-kick, it never fully showed it seems. it was very one-dimensional and of course not everyone’s going to love it (i was amongst the majority).

    now to all the people who’re saying “but what about liberty, jimmy, etc”. the answer is simple: c-o-l-o-r-i-s-m. i highlighted hazel being a dark-skinned black girl, because being of a darker tone, you do not get a lot of opportunities in the acting industry and you have to literally claw your way up or just leave hollywood all together. so many dark-skinned black women went through the samething andrea went through and the cycle is still continuing.

    liberty and jimmy were both half-white AND light-skinned. the lighter you are in hollywood (and this really goes for anything), the more opportunities you will have. let’s compare halle berry to viola davis. in my opinion, viola davis is a much more phenomenal actress, but besides the help (which is a horrible movie plotting around a white girl feeling guilty and writing about the experiences of black women who were maids and were treated as shit), she never had a decent break. however, from all the movies i’ve seen her in, she takes my breath away every time. halle berry, on the other hand, is an okay actress. she’s always type casted as the beautiful woman with a shallow character development (hello, catwoman?), but she’s always casted in so many movies. why? she’s light-skinned. she’s pleasing for the white audience to look at and not feel any disgust or annoyance when they look at her.

    same happened to hazel vs. liberty and jimmy. liberty and jimmy both came from both stable homes, and yes, jimmy was a basketball player but his story line was further developed since he was shot. yes liberty got pregnant, but her inner turmoil was still developed throughout the series. they weren’t shafted as tokens or stereotypes (even though they do seem so on the surface), because they were both pleasing to the eye to watch. let’s be honest, if hazel’s character had shine, so many people would’ve gotten annoyed. no one wants to see a dark-skinned black woman get a main role that doesn’t center around a stereotype. i’ve seen it time and time again (everyone and their grandmas hate martha from doctor who even though she’s the best character on the show).

    that’s why during the later seasons, all the dark-skinned black characters (like chantay and danny) were shafted to the side even though they were considered part of the main cast…and now we’re seeing it done to marisol as well.

    andrea, your feelings are completely valid and i whole-heartedly believe you. your experience isn’t unique at all. i read so many stories of dark-skinned black women in particular being shafted or written up as a stereotype time and time again (even on movies who’re directed by black directs *ahemtylerperryahem*). this isn’t about throwing the “race card” around, folks. this is completely real and will continue time and time again.

  48. I remember watching Degrassi: TNG and it always irritated me that these white actresses with mediocre talent always had the largest screen time. Today, we can kinda see the same thing reoccurring I notice there is only one Black actress currently on the Degrassi. And I rarely see her with a developed storyline (which is very, very sad). I’m not sure what I would do if I were in your shoes Andrea I would probably try to stick it out like you did for 6 years but then again that’s still a very long time. In addition, I also notice that in Cadet Kelly you played the same role like you did in the Degrassi where you were the “friend”. I remember watching that movie when it premiered and I asked myself where is her family? What are her interests? Why does her world revolve around the white protagonist?

    I also noticed that the same producers from Degrassi who created LA Complex have a Black actor who serves as Black best friend who offers relationship advice to his white male friend (how typical!). Also, we can’t forget the homosexual “street-thug-rapper” who is violent and abusive for no particular given reason. These stereotypes stifle Black actors/actresses which is very despicable because how can you grow in an industry that is willing to put you in a box?

    TV disgusts me so much that I don’t even watch much scripted shows period! I lean towards shows on Youtube like; ABG, Unwritten Rules and RoomieLoverFriends. I think the internet is a great place to start for Black actors where they can thrive, grow and create meaningful work.

    Continue to do what you do best!

  49. I didn’t watch Degrassi, but I watch western media so you see this time and again. Every now and again an actor or actress decides to talk about these things. I wish more of them did, but at the same time I understand why they don’t. I hope the people who have decided to reevalute their thoughts on Hazel’s character will extend this consideration to POC and WOC on other shows in most scenarios it is the same behind the scenes bias that is causing these characters to be boring, uninteresting, annoying or worse, the actor and the character are both innocent bystanders.

    • Also I want to add that for those who don’t know anything about television production the director runs the entire show, a show’s director sets the course, and it is the writer’s and actor’s job to bring the director’s vision to life. The so-called Degrassi insider is a liar that is very ignorant of televison or theatrical production.

  50. Wow this open up to me because I always been a fan of Degrassi seriously people need to read this I don’t think it’s fair at all that yeah they have other races in the show but Degrassi mainly is about high school drama 24/7 and how teens deal and coupe with this but the fact that it only serval races I mean that crazy but Andrea thanks because I never seen your character on the show so I never known

  51. Natalie says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve always watched Degrassi. The things you wrote here make sense and I’m sorry I never thought of it before because I’m one of those people who are like, “I don’t like Hazel, she’s pretty much useless” but I should have known. The light-skinned black characters got some storylines, pretty stereotypical, while you were left in the dust and now that Degrassi has gone more “hollywood” there are hardly any dark skinned people on there at all. Thanks for reminding us about the world we truly live in. It can be so easy to forget.

  52. I have newfound respect for you after reading this post. I must admit, when i was kid, i didn’t really like your character (thought i loved the one about hazel’s culture), but i’ve grown up and now realize the reason why: the directors didn’t really care for the world to like black girl’s character on tv. They always give the better storylines to white characters, then to dark skinned guys, and then finally to black girls (i say black girls, because alli is brown and has had some interesting storylines lately, but chantay is legit the most hated character on the show, and marisol is well-liked but her min storylines re her relationships with boys and with her white best friend). It’s upsetting.

  53. Katiexox says:

    I noticed ever since I was little they made all the “black girls” bitchy. But I remember watching and I thought you were gorgeous, even though your character was selfish I was hoping they would show your characters soft side and get to know your background. You were known as pages friend :/ and to be honest I liked you more then Paige. You are a beautiful women and a great actress . I wish I cld of seen more of you on that show.

    • That’s cool but when are the Black female characters going to be in predominate roles? Ali and Cassie are women of color but are not Black. To be truly diverse means that all of the main characters should shine. As a whole, the Black characters are not predominant on the show. Just to prove my point can you name any Black female characters that stand out on the show? Honestly, I can’t. Sarah came close but no I can’t but the guys I can name.. mostly White.

      When I think about diversity I think that everybody should have equal interactions and story lines on the show which is not what I’m seeing on the show. Marisol should have been able to hook up with Drew or to learn about who she and some of the Black characters on there. We know the most of the non Black characters on there but not the Black ones nor do they stay on the show very long as were seeing on here.

  54. I noticed they let a lot of black males take le-ad :instead of the Girls. You made an impact on the show though! I always loved your style. You go girl !

  55. Kayla Salzberg says:

    Something else racist on the show? Chantay BLACK???? 10 points to you Andrea, you go Andrea Lewis.

  56. I was shocked to read this. In retrospect, I don’t know why I’m so shocked. Media, especially entertainment media, are still dominated by white faces. For some reason, when white people think “diverse,” they…think of other white people. Characters who aren’t white tend to fit into a one-dimensional, predetermined role based on suppositions about their race. And yes, I know there are exceptions to every rule. I stopped watching Degrassi once I grew up, but the Degrassi I watched did not have many exceptions to this rule. Not nearly as many as they should have.

    Andrea, I don’t remember much about Degrassi. What I do remember is (a) I wanted to punch Spinner and Sean, (b) I wanted to punch Emma, (c) Hazel was cute and sweet and spunky and after a while she faded into obscurity and I could never figure out why. I swear, I can’t remember a single Degrassi episode by plot–EXCEPT for the one where we find out Hazel is not who we think she is. It was so powerful. It went a long way in teaching kids not to judge a book by its cover. Sadly, it sounds like Degrassi forgot their own lesson. At least during your tenure. I didn’t watch much when the show started bringing in Jay and Alex and all those other brats. Never cared for them.

    To all of you trying to shame Andrea into recanting her statements: Shame on you. You have not walked in her shoes. You have not worked with the writers and producers she has worked with. You were not there when she was cast in the role. You do not know what the producer was or was not looking for when he cast her. You do not know what was going on through ANY of those individuals’ minds. Only Andrea does–because, as she said, a former member of the staff sat down and talked to her and TOLD her what was going through their minds.

    You all like to think racism is a thing of the past. But when studies show that employers would rather hire white employees with criminal records than black employees without; when studies show that white people make the majority of drug users but black people make the majority of people doing jailtime for drug possession; when surveys show that people of color make the majority of moviegoers, but Hollywood still insists on whitewashing stories that are supposed to be about minorities (Fargo, The Impossible) and casting all white leads in their rom-coms and chick-flicks; when you have all these stats staring you in the face, the only way you can deny your society’s ongoing system of racism is by looking the other way. White people get to look the other way. People in Andrea’s position do not, because the issue smacks us in the face every single day.

    To close a VERY long post…lol…Andrea, you are talented and beautiful and fresh and I’m looking forward to Black Actress. Good luck!!

  57. Dimitrius says:

    Good for you Andrea! I know its a hard thing to do by exposing this sort of situation and I applaud your candor and honesty in sharing your thoughts on the situation with us. I’m a Degrassi fan that goes way back to the original series(we got to watch it on PBS for homework!) and despite the ill treatment you received, I have to still admit at least the show depicts black people at all good or bad and it was a pleasure to see you work since we barely see any young positive depictions of black girls on television as it is. That said, I always did think the character of Hazel and several of the black female characters that followed in the ensemble were played in such a limited compacity. It seems kinda ironic in a way that it takes a show produced in CANADA to bring us a multiracial cast of characters whereas in America, most of the shows featuring teen characters depicts the ups and downs of growing up as a generally ‘white’ experience, for that I owe whomever created the series some thanks. But, in the end its always a sad state of affairs when the clearly talented and worthwhile cast of minority characters gets put on the sidelines while the white characters generally run the gamut and dominate most of storylines available.

  58. I really appreciate this post and it’s so true. Many of the black characters and other persons of color on this show have been sidetracked and really never heard from again.

    I am an avid fan of Degrassi (Always have always will) and they have done the same thing with Marisol. She is basically Hazel. She is on the cheer squad, she comes from a unknown background (I think her parents are rich) She was with different guys, but there was never pain or sorrow or more understanding of her, and now she is graduating and I have no idea who she really is. She is just a friend to Katie, and that is what she truly became.

    I think they have done slightly better in the range of pushing minority characters in the spotlight, or at least side characters that have just been dead this whole season to have a storyline…

    I think that is a consequence when we are following a lot of people and have just a short time to know them all, but even this excuse isn’t reasonable. I mean Eli/Clare had like half this season (and other seasons) and Drew/Bianca had another season, I mean what gives?

    But anyway, thank you for this!

  59. Palavi00 says:

    I remember when I watched Degrassi I was always pissed with the way Liberty’s pregnancy storyline was shafted, pushed to a b-plot and made almost entirely about JT and her other white friends instead of her. I was in middle school so it never really occurred to me that part of that probably had to do with the color of her skin. Really the only people of color the show did justice to in its first seven or so seasons were Jimmy and Marco. Both guys. Unsurprising, as guys are generally allowed to be complex characters regardless of skin color, a privilege women of color are not often afforded.

    In fact until I read this I had forgotten that Hazel was around for so long. She literally had no other role but to play Paige’s sidekick. It makes sense now that you’ve written about the reasons why.

    I find that calling out racism tends to make white people unreasonably angry and bitter. They don’t like the underlying assumption that they are part of the problem. So they belittle your experience or explain it away. They look for one or two outliers that don’t corroborate perfectly with your story or spin wild tales about how what you said couldn’t possibly be true because of some obscure thing they know from a friend about show business. Anything to put the blame on your shoulders so they don’t have to reflect on their own bigotry.

    That’s why I think it was incredibly brave for you to come out about this. Women of color always get bashed when they share their stories of discrimination, especially stories about discrimination in show business. It’s 2013, and people still aren’t ready to listen to us. But don’t let that stop you from telling the truth. Thank you, for sharing.

  60. Samantha says:

    Thank you so much for sharing, Andrea. I remember watching you and Aubrey and wondering why we didn’t see you more aside from that one story line about Hazel being from Somalia and a Muslim. Jimmy and Liberty may have gotten prominent storyline but it was all so stereotypical. Jimmy the athlete and Liberty getting pregnant. And even now, same thing is going on. Dallas is clearly the new Jimmy and we just learned he has a baby. Marisol is the new Hazel, she’s only around to prop Katie or her boyfriend and we hardly see Dave.

  61. I’ve always suspected that something wasn’t right about Degrassi and Sarah confirmed it. Thanks!

    When it comes to Black characters, Degrassi didn’t fully develop them properly nor did I feel that they were interested in doing do. You could tell it: Something tragic (like what happened to JT nd liberty), make them seem boorish, or make their characters unattractive to the point where no guys would approach them… the suspicions where there. Much as I like Mike Dallas, it seems that the writers/producers made him tainted by making him a teen dad.. another way of decreasing any White girl chances of dating him on the show.

    I agree with Sarah, it seems that Degrassi really do try to make their Black characters be lame as possible. I hope that she will be able to find work on TV..like being a Black female lead on there. Degrassi do seem unrealistic with their characters and you can only do that so long before the show becomes lame.

    • Who’s Sarah? Do you mean Andrea?

      • I intended to say Andrea but my computer froze up. Sarah Barrable-Tishaser (sp?) played Liberty on Degrassi. Ironically, like Andrea, she had the same complaint about Degrassi.

        • Really? What’d she say and where can I read her comments? It’s one thing if just Andrea has that complaint, but if Sarah said the same thing, it’s pretty damaging to Degrassi’s reputation.

          • CeCe,

            I seen Liberty’s interview on a blog called Boycott The Caf .Just look for Sarah Barrable-Tishauer .Quite an interesting interview ..

  62. Ehh.. When I was younger.. about 13 (2007) when I seen the show, I never really took thought into that. However, I am starting to notice the subtle amount of racism that was embedded into the show whether you believe or not.. It took Chantay, FOREVER.. nearly 3 seasons to get a role. She started in Season 4 (2004) and got a main role 4 years later in Season 8 (2008)?! Not to mention they somewhat had her as the loud mouth “Sassy” gossiping girl. Shanice appeared in Season 10… And was the earliest black female to get a main role after one season.. And one of the earliest to leave. They got rid of her after Season 12. Eeep! Andrea, they pretty much portrayed you as the quiet, “non-threatening” black female. Honestly, we can see this is the 21st century, but not pretend like its still racist.

    Ohhh. And if anyone mention the roles of Liberty, Jimmy, Dallas.. please remember they’re “half black” therefore they get a role, but they will never amount as being equals as well either. Heck.. Liberty was a teen mom, Jimmy was almost every stereotypical black career, basketball rap, dad cheating on mom.. Dallas, angry, aggressive.. Was a bully, made poor decisions.

    Andrea, I was just like you.. I didn’t want to believe it, I wanted to pretend it was a hallucination.. I’m really glad you opened up, and stated your opinions. The way you and the other black females were treated did not surprise me, but honestly disappointed me.

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