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Actress, Singer, Entrepreneur, "Degrassi" Alum Andrea Lewis Tells Her Story; What's Yours?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 17, 2012 1:32 PM
25 Comments
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andrea lewis

Continuing on with the What's Your Story? feature I started a few weeks ago... a brief recap: I posted a call for your individual stories as artists in this business, whatever your trade is; whether stories of triumph, tragedy, lessons learned, regrets, etc. Read that post HERE to catch up if necessary.

Your responses have been coming in, which is great! Keep'em coming. I'll continue to post as many as I can. 

The 4th submission comes from Canadian-born actress/singer Andrea Lewis, an alum of Degrassi The Next Generation, a teen TV drama series set in the Degrassi universe that I'm sure some of you are familiar with. It began its run in 2001 and is still on the air.

Over the years, Andrea has appeared in parts here and there on film, TV and stage, and also released an album. And she's now a web-entrepreneur, creating a content-based online space called ThoseGirlsAreWild.com, with her best friend.

But I'll let her tell her story, which also includes a video that she created for this purpose; so you can either watch the video, or read her entry, or do both. It's up to you.

First, the video, and then underneath, in her own written words:

And here's her story in written form:

To Shadow and Act,

Thank you for your continued support and for giving actors, actresses, directors, and writers a chance to share their story with your growing community. Here is my story.

I began in the entertainment industry as a toddler. My mom was approached by a casting director while walking around with me in the mall when I was only a year old. She didn't know anything about acting or entertainment and the way it would eventually take over her life but all she did know was that she had a cute baby and some free time on her hands so why not give it try.

The first job I booked was a cookie commercial when I was 2 years old. It was a long but simple day of playing make believe and feeding cookies to stuffed animals and I guess it's there that you can say I "caught the bug". I quickly booked more commercials and did a range of print ads for sears and pampers and everything in between that a kid could advertise.

From there my acting adventures progressed and I started to book guest spots on television shows and lead roles in "movie's of the week". All the while being a full time child actor I was a singing dancing machine in my "normal life" I started singing as early as I started acting so that's why it's difficult for me to answer when people ask me which one I like more or would choose over the other. I've always done both so I look at my self as an entertainer.

When I was teenager I hit my sweet spot and booked back to back jobs for Disney, ABC, NBC and Nickelodeon and then I landed on my longest and most notable job to date; Degrassi The Next Generation. I was fortunate to play, "Hazel the go-to girl" for 6 seasons and as excited as I was to be on a such a large and respected series I was often frustrated with my character because she was usually treated as the "dose of colour". She rarely had lead story lines and barely had anything important to say but at the same time she was in majority of the episodes and it gave me a ton of exposure across North America.

When my character "graduated" from Degrassi, I recorded my first album, Float Away with Universal Music Canada and also landed on another Canadian series where I played a singer. Things were moving along exactly as I imagined them, my music and acting were being combined and my new character was a lot juicier than when I played "Hazel" so I was finally getting to "act".

When I turned 20 I made the big move to Los Angeles in hopes of making a bigger name for myself. I was excited and determined when I got to LA but many people told me that just because I was in a city with more opportunities did not mean there was any for a black girl and just because I was a known name and face in Canada didn't mean it would transfer over to the US. I spent a few years in Los Angeles doing a movie for Nickelodeon, and 2 musicals on stage but still continuing to struggle to land roles, and convince any agent, or casting director to truly take a risk on me. The roles for a black actress don't come every day and when they did they only wanted to use the name and face that they've already seen before. I can't tell you how many auditions I went to in a room full of new face black girls and I'd over hear the casting director asking for someone like "Raven Simone" or someone that was "known". As much as I support and love the actresses of colour that have made it, I would still like to see some new faces and names!

Through my struggles though I made something beautiful. My best friend and I created the website ThoseGirlsAreWild.com and it seem to be the answer and relief that I needed. We created a world where we didn't have to wait on approvals or money or "the machine". We were able to just be ourselves and produce our own content that represented us and what we believed in. I stopped worrying about where my next part was coming from and started focusing on the parts I could create from ThoseGirlsAreWild. In my opinion it was effortless beauty and it was in this space that I was able to re-connect with my fans and make some of the my best and most creative work with my album, 54321. I gave it away as a free download and within the first week it had over 100,000 downloads all from people that were apart and supported the independent movement of TGAW. With the release of my album I went all over the world (Canada, US, UK) doing shows and promoting it and it felt good that the only person in control of it's success was me.

Being the independent lioness that I am my best friend and partner continued to on our journey and decided to take our brand of WILD girls to the next level by shooting our first scripted pilot. We'd always made skits and many people had told us we needed our own show but we both knew the struggles and how hard it is to get seen, especially with 2 women of colour as the leads but we did it anyway. We're currently working on our show and in the midst of it I made another big move to New York to attend film school. I've always wanted to produce my own projects but filming our pilot made it more clear that this is where I need to be. I've learned a lot being in front of the camera but there's even more I need to know about being behind the camera.

I look at myself as an advocate for women of colour and I believe in and love our stories but I'm sick of hearing "no" and not seeing our faces any where on the screen. There's nothing on TV or film right now that I think represents my experience or that of my friends so that is why I do what I do. I want to change the out look and not have to wait. With ThoseGirlsAreWild and by going to film school I'm going to be able to produce ALL of the projects whether in music or film that I've always dreamed. With the power of the internet this is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur especially for people of colour. Yes the journey is hard but with determination the final result will be well worth it.

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25 Comments

  • BBJ | July 4, 2012 5:29 AMReply

    Oowee, Loubous for me? Let me get four pair!

  • Kia | March 18, 2012 10:26 AMReply

    Glad to see a woman's story highlighted here. Best of luck to you Andrea!

  • FilmGuy | March 18, 2012 7:19 AMReply

    Much respect to Ms. Lewis for continuing to push towards her dreams. She's going the right direction by focusing on producing the type of content that she'd like to be seen in, so the best we can do is continue to feature inspiring artists like her on S&A and support their work when it comes out.

  • Akimbo | March 17, 2012 4:36 PMReply

    Much respect to Andrea for pushing hard and working towards her goals. I'm going to have to be honest and say that, while part of her struggle may be due to her ethnicity, I think her limited acting ability may also be at fault. I watched Degrassi regularly for a long time and most of the kids were just not very good. Of the original-ish cast (not the newnew class) were a few standouts (Lauren Collins, Aubrey "Drake" Graham, Nina Dobrev), some who skated by on charisma (Cassie Steele, Shane Kippel), a whole bunch of not good (just about everyone else including 90210 star Shenae Grimes & working actor Jamie Johnston), and the flat out terrible (Miriam McDonald). Sad to say that, for most of those kids, their best bet is to stay in Canada and scoop up those local hire roles or find something else to do with their lives.

  • BBJ | July 4, 2012 5:33 AM

    She is a bad actress tho...why people post their ish online & only expect to be gassed up? CryYyYyYyY! Can she hook me up with them loubous, tho?

  • Nadine | April 6, 2012 4:54 PM

    @Andrea Lewis - Take a deep breath... we're all rooting for you. Logic can overcome the harshness of the boards. YOU know the scope of your work. The "harsh" poster and others may not. It is about your focus and your spirit, not the limited opinion of others, including me. Use it as motivation, Andrea, especially since you'll be in my town. NYC will definitely be a great move you. We all admire you and your tenacity and appreciate the sharing of your heartfelt story. You've got dis!

  • Andrea Lewis | April 6, 2012 4:41 PM

    I think your comments are very harsh and mean. It's not easy to pursue an acting career whether you are white or black and I didn't want to tell my story on here for people to "feel sorry for the little black girl from Degrassi". I just wanted to share my work (all which I'm very proud of whether you think I'm a good actress or not) and let everyone know about the next chapter of my journey. None of my parts just "fell in my lap", yes I was fortunate to get into the industry as a toddler but I've had to work very hard for everything that I've gotten. I do not think my talent is just limited to "stay in Canada and scoop up those local hire roles or find something else to do with my life." I've learned so much from all of my experiences on television and since Degrassi I've done a lot of work on stage where I've learnt even more and I truly believe that my acting ability and knowledge of film making has improved tremendously since my days on Degrassi. But I'm not writing here to prove to you that I'm a good actress, your opinion is your opinion but you should take into consideration that I will read the comments and all of yours in my opinion came from a place of "HATE". It takes a lot to share your story and despite people like you I've gotten a lot of support and "LOVE" from other black actresses and film makers who appreciate my journey and my work after seeing this post.

  • Jason | March 18, 2012 3:01 PM

    My case isn't arguing whether or not Lewis is great actress or bad actress. My case is in response to what you think of her talents because even if you were to argue that Lewis is not a good actress it still doesn't evade the fact that Hollywood is unjust towards black actresses for the simple fact that there are many white actresses that are not good (which you even mentioned) that still get more work and of better quality than their black counterparts. White actresses like Fox and Lohan can be blatantly disrespectful/ungrateful towards the industry and throw away chance after chance that the industry gives them and they will STILL be treated far better than the grand majority of black actresses even if those black actresses have talent and dedication. As far as my own thoughts of Lewis' work, she said herself here that her character wasn't given much to do on Degrassi so there didn't seem to be a chance given to her to show more of what she is capable of. I have seen some episodes though and I didn't think she was bad at all. She has expressed here that she wants to grow in her craft and I haven't seen any reason to think that she can't or isn't capable of doing so. The fact that she has already set those wheels into motion by enrolling in film school shows that she is serious about that. I sincerely wish her all the luck.

  • JMAC | March 18, 2012 2:11 PM

    @Akimbo - It was harsh because from what I have seen of her she's not that bad - not great but she doesn't make me cringe like some of the other young actresses out there. Still the question remains where are all these terrific young black actors who aren't getting a break? I assume they audition like everyone else. I can make a base assumption that despite talent they don't have the "whole package," can't wow anybody, have no presence, or just can't plain do the work they are hired to do. But that would be unfair of me. Obviously we know this business is not and never has been based solely on who's the most talented but stating that those who don't get work are (in your opinion) just terrible actors is too simplistic a reasoning. There's still a place for the Andreas and Staceys in the world -just as there is with their white equivalents- if casting decisions for black actors weren't so closed and so few. Good for her for creating her own opportunities but let's not pretend if she never went into acting her previous roles would have gone to a very strong child actress.

  • Akimbo | March 18, 2012 1:56 PM

    I'm not saying black actresses don't have it hard; I know they do. I'm saying that Andrea Lewis is not a good actress so maybe we shouldn't be blaming the "plight" in THIS instance. That is the only point I am trying to make. I almost mentioned Gabrielle Union among that list of bad actresses who get consistent work, but I realized that her problem is that she's one-note, not that she totally sucks. I think it's very telling that in this entire post, not one person has commented on how talented this actress is, even those who admit to having seen her work.

  • Jason | March 18, 2012 1:38 PM

    Megan Fox a better than Andrea Lewis? Sorry to say, but you "assessment' is poor. Fox hardly does anything in regards to acting. Also, you either are light on the facts or are purposely simplifying Fox's incident to better suit your argument. Fox didn't disrespect just one man. It was Steven Spielberg that ordered she be fired. And that "one man" was the one that pushed her into the spotlight. The fact she disrespected him in the press shows the poor character she has and how ungrateful she is. It's also telling that your words on Lohan don't dispute anything I said. You basically just summarized what I said so I assume you agree in regards to her. Point is, both of these white females (one that is not a good actresses and one that may have shown some promises but flushed it away and keeps doing so) keep getting work despite every reason for them to have the doors closed on them. Yet an actress of color that shows strong work ethnic does not have even half of those doors open for them. That's white privilege in effect. The names that you mention don't help your case either. Neither Rochelle Aytes or Stacey Dash have done much high profile work (Dash's VH1 is the most high profile work she's gotten since Clueless and that Kayne West video). You seem unaware that most of Gugu Mbatha-Ra's work has been in England. Her most high profile work here is on the cancelled Undercovers. And Paula Patton? Really? You're going to mention a light skinned woman like her to argue that black actresses don't have it as hard as they claim they do? The fact that out of the women you mentioned Patton is the one who is getting the most (i.e. better quality and more high profile) work and she is the one who looks the least African and more European only backs up what I'm saying.

  • Akimbo | March 18, 2012 7:08 AM

    @Ali: Yes, she was underwritten, but so was Jajube Mandiela (one of the flunky cheerleaders) who still proved herself a better actress with even less material. @Jmac: I think my comment seemed harsh because there's the possibility that the she will read it. People rightfully go in on other performers and no one cares about their feelings. Young black actors can (or MIGHT be able to) improve by taking acting classes, not by being handed roles just because they've worked in the past. @Jason: Megan Fox disrespected one man and will never work with him again; doesn't mean the whole town will banish her. As long as people find her sexy, she will always find work. On top of that, she may not be good, but she's still better than the actress in question. Before all her issues, Lindsay Lohan was actually a promising and charming young actress; people keep hoping she will get back on track, but no dice. Yes, Shenae Grimes sucks but so do Gugu Mbatha-Ra, Paula Patton, Rochelle Aytes, Stacey Dash and a host of other black actresses; but they keep getting work, too. The business and life in general are not fair and the aforementioned actresses AND Andrea Lewis are examples of that. She lucked into an acting career by being discovered as a baby and booked several roles despite her lack of acting ability. I can't bring myself to feel bad when there are brilliant and trained actresses out there just dying for the opportunities that simply fell into her lap. No disrespect or "hate," just my assessment.

  • Jason | March 17, 2012 9:33 PM

    Akimbo, you're very mistaken. Even if it were really a question of "limited acting ability" look at how unjust the treatment is. Megan Fox can't act to save her life yet the entire Hollywood machine was shoving her down people's throats for several years even going as far as giving her the lead role that a then recently awarded Oscar winner wrote. Despite that she was ungrateful and talked bad about the man who gave her the big push (Michael Bay) in the press. And even though she was thrown off the last Transformers movie for her disrespectful actions she still landed a gig in an independent movie afterwards and also a role in Judd Apatow's upcoming comedy. You're can't possibly argue that someone like Fox is more deserving of opportunities given to her than someone like Andrea even after her being disrespectful? Or how about Lindsay Lohan who despite every door and opportunity she has been given through the years she blows them time and time again and yet the whole industry is still willing to give her chances. Do you really think a black actress can get away with any of those things and still have Hollywood willing to welcome her back like they are with Lohan? You even pointed out white actresses like Shenae Grimes that you describe as "not good" but yet she gets solid work and more exposure. It should be clear that something isn't right. Someone like Andrea has proven she has the work ethic and determination to contribute in the industry but like many black actresses in Hollywood she isn't getting accepted because of the lingering white supremacist mentality that dominates Hollywood. Andrea shouldn't give up. Good for her for finding other roads to persue her goals. I wish her all the luck and thank her for sharing her journey!

  • JMAC | March 17, 2012 8:09 PM

    Didn't watch Degrassi but your comment was a little harsh. It was just a kid's show so a good place to build experience but not necessarily for finding the next Oscar winner. How can young black actors improve if not given the opportunity to grow and experiment? Not too many natural born anythings in this world. We all have to start from something. Besides where are these hot, supertalented kids/young adults that are taking the Raven Simone type roles? Haven't seen very many whose acting was above par.

  • Ali | March 17, 2012 7:52 PM

    The material is just not there for them to shine even if they have tremendous talent. So, of course, that makes it even harder when they try to move on. Most of them haven't went on to much more than Andrea Lewis so I wouldn't completely use her race as the only reason either. Besides when I did watch the show I noticed she had the least developed character there. She wasn't that popular among the audience of the show.

  • Dramaqueen | March 17, 2012 3:48 PMReply

    Sometimes you have to take your destiny into your own hands! Good luck, Andrea keep on keeping on.

  • Bohemian_princess | March 17, 2012 3:42 PMReply

    Thank you Andrea! As a black actress I have shed those very same tears and I haven't had nearly the success you have. Those who do not have to pound the pavement as we do can never understand the struggles that we face in this industry. You have to have an incredibly resilient frame of mind to face the constant rejection. I hear you sister. I am proud of you taking such initiative by learning many different facets of the business. I have no doubt it will pay off for you in spades. We all look forward to you doing big things.

  • Nadine | March 17, 2012 2:08 PMReply

    Keep your head up... I think the penny has finally dropped for a lot of folks that we note only have to keep demanding more from the industry, but that we have to create our own projects as well while working together. Enjoy Union Square little lady. Your resilience is an inspiration.

  • trina | March 17, 2012 1:48 PMReply

    Black Actresses have the hardest stories. She's beautiful and I got emotional with her at the end of the video. We can't give up our stories need to be told.

  • Akimbo | March 17, 2012 4:46 PM

    Oops, in NYC

  • Akimbo | March 17, 2012 4:44 PM

    Viola Davis and older actresses who languish in the background for years have hard stories; Andrea was discovered as a child and was fortunate enough to book regularly in Canada. Now she's in LA and actually having to compete against people on the same level & further along than her. I know it's rough, but the struggle she describes is typical of actresses across color-lines; especially the part about losing out to "names."

  • T.K | March 17, 2012 1:47 PMReply

    I've seen her work before, I watched Degrassi in College. Glad to see she's still going.

  • Shannon Komai McClain | March 17, 2012 1:45 PMReply

    Thanks for sharing your story. As a black actress, I can relate! Keep up the good work. Stay positive. And know that there ARE people out here who are praying for you, pushing for you, and supporting you. Be blessed!

  • Nadine | March 17, 2012 1:43 PMReply

    I stopped watching Degrassi because of the constant downturns in your few story lines. Glad you're doing well and not only surviving, but thriving.

  • Shayla | March 17, 2012 1:41 PMReply

    This was a very inspiring video. She's accomplished a lot and even with her resume she still has a difficult time getting work. I'm glad she's going to film school, best of luck Andrea

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