‘The Porter’ Creators Talk Season 2 for Civil Rights Drama: “We’re Carving Out a New Chapter”

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The CBC and BET+ are putting out another call for The Porter.

There’s no official announcement just yet, but the Canadian and U.S. TV platforms are set to renew the civil rights drama about 1920s Black train employees and their families in Montreal and Chicago for a second season.

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Showrunner Annmarie Morais and director Charles Officer talked to The Hollywood Reporter as scripts are being readied to continue portraying Black train porters’ efforts to launch North America’s first Black labor union.

The second season will also take another step toward reframing Black Canadian history as the first Canadian drama to boast an all-Black creative team, on whose shoulders rest the pressure to succeed and create opportunities for others to tell their own stories that center Black identity. The Porter‘s second season is especially meaningful in light of the fact that a series cancellation would be seen as a direct blow to the cause of creating more diversity and inclusion in Canadian TV.

“We really want to be in a place where a diversity story is just normal procedure in our industry. So there’s a lot of weight on being the first, on correcting what has been an uneven playing field for so long,” Morais said of The Porter, which boasts a fully Black Canadian creative team.

The second season will return to Montreal’s St. Antoine neighborhood, which during the 1920s was home to a working-class community of Black Canadians and Caribbean newcomers that included many of the railway porters, their families and community that inspired the drama behind The Porter.

The series is originated and co-created by Arnold Pinnock and showrunners Annmarie Morais and Marsha Greene and is directed by Officer and RT Thorne. The Porter‘s first season starred Aml Ameen, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Mouna Traoré, Loren Lott, Olunike Adeliyi and Alfre Woodard, who also executive produced the series.

The Porter‘s first season followed train porters Junior Massey and Zeke Garrett on starkly different paths to a better life. During the finale, Junior rises to the top of a broken system, and Zeke touts a new union, The Order of the Sleeping Car Porters. What can fans expect from the second season?

Morais: The ghosts of the First World War and St. Antoine will come home in the second season. Zeke, Junior and in some sense the community will have to deal with the impact of the past, and more specifically the criminal riots and that portion of the war. They will have to tangle with the past.

Will the sophomore season be about what Junior, Zeke, Junior’s wife Marlene and upstart performer Lucy will do to realize their dreams while dealing with whatever and whoever stands in their way?

Morais: The thematic umbrella focuses on what happens when you get the thing you want, and not what you expected. It’s not enough. They’re all looking for agency. It’s not enough to be the number two or number one gangster, not enough to have some form of unionization without really being a star on the rise when someone is shining brighter than you are. So all of our central characters are living in some form of success and yet discovering they want to taste it in the full.

Marlene Massey gets a new building to open her clinic at the end of the first season. Can we expect her to become a doctor at some point?

Morais: The clinic allows access to health care denied, not to what a hospital can provide. For some, it’s the only care that they will have at hand and if they feel treated with dignity and respect, to which we’re all entitled, and the clinic becomes a touchstone for the community to rally around, to feel like they are succeeding.

Lucy Conrad in the finale leaves for New York City to realize her musical dreams. Will she taste success fully in the second season?

Morais: What people love about Lucy is so much of what Loren (Lott) brought of her own self to this role, this energy and exuberance, this hunger for more than what she’s dealt. I think that never goes away. What we know about Lucy is by any means she will wrestle the odds for her dreams. She has gotten a taste of life on the stage in New York and we know you can’t escape your past. We’ll see Lucy wrestle for the future, but still have to confront her past in St. Antoine.

With any series, the second season allows the writers room to expand on characters introduced in the rookie season. How will you take advantage of that opportunity?

Morais: This is one of the joys of a second season. You do get to peel back the skin a little to see how characters came to be. This is part of the rise of the prequel, where you want to know how one got to be the person, the superhero. And our series is no different. We want to explore the roots of the attitudes and the perspectives that are driving characters today. How and where were they formed? How did they become people on a mission?

The Porter makes use of the N-word in a creative context to the end of the first season, including in the final episode. Tell us about that decision.

Officer: This word is something that is triggering for a lot of us. The word was used by a white actor [in the final episode]. It was something that we were all aware of, not something we wanted to shy away from. But it was used very specifically. And we prepared our background community performers that were there, that this word would be used. We didn’t say the word in rehearsals. So we found a way to minimize what wasn’t taken lightly.

Was there audience backlash in any way?

Officer: I didn’t really hear anything. But that word has been used in so many forms that are a lot more harmful [than] the way that we used it. I’m not saying it’s any less harmful, but we’re conscious of our use.

Did you do anything on set, say limiting takes with the use of the racial slur, to protect the crew and cast?

Officer: Acting is a job. It’s a craft. But actors are still real people. Everyone has their own individual experience with that word. For me on set, I need to protect the black actors around me hearing that word and make sure they’re supported. It’s how the word is used. We’re using it just off the tail end of Black people being enslaved and when they were still in indentured servitude. We played for a realism and that was a choice.

The Porter is produced in the context of a drive by the Canadian TV industry for more diversity and inclusion. How will a second season accelerate that goal?

Morais: The breadth of the series is really spanning so many number of years to the actual process of forming a union. A second season allows us to journey further into that story, into that mystery. We’ve had so many pages of Canadian history that are uncredited to Black people. The second season will shine a light on redacted chapters of Canadian history, but hopefully, the audience gets attached to the characters. And like any other series, you’re so attached and connected with Zeke and Junior and Marlene that a lot of viewers will come back to see what’s happening with them, people they either love or loathe, and they want to know more and what the next chapter is.

Officer: The significance of the second season is two-fold: We’re carving out a new chapter, a space for storytelling in this country. From a commerce sensibility, the way that the show develops and nurtures and has talent coming through a production, that’s what will close the disparity gap of experience. That will hopefully allow actors, writers, directors and creative individuals to grow their skill sets so they can work in this industry. For people that have worked in other jobs and shows, the idea of development for a series that gets a second and third season allows them to branch off. You need a show that allows for that to happen, where folks will be trusted by broadcasters.

Does a second season order following quickly on the first season allow easier development and nurturing of Black Canadian creators, as opposed to people having to wait three, five years or even longer between opportunities to tell stories?

Morais: We really want to be in a place where a diversity story is just normal procedure in our industry. So there’s a lot of weight on being the first, on correcting what has been an uneven playing field for so long. We want to have more diverse half hours, more diverse sci-fi — in every genre and capacity — [and have] the frequency of those stories become more steady and constant. There’s more doors opening to avenues that were closed. So yes, it’s tough when you’re doing a period piece and it’s such a massive shift towards diversity and inclusion and training and opportunities in all forms.

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