Drake’s video director, Toronto’s Karena Evans steps in front of the camera

Living the dream as a young, Black female director is an experience Karena Evans doesn’t take for granted.

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Toronto's Karena Evans, who directed music videos for superstar Drake and Grammy nominee SZA, is co-starring in Firecrackers, which debuted at TIFF this month. (Alexander Shabazz via CP)

Living the dream as a young, black female director is an experience Karena Evans doesn’t take for granted.

Over the past year, the 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker stood behind the camera on music videos for superstar Drake and Grammy nominee SZA. Those projects would be considered a career high for almost anyone, but Evans also recognizes that as a visible female minority, she probably wouldn’t have been considered for those sorts of directing jobs even a few years ago.

“For me, it’s just understanding that it hasn’t always been like that,” Evans said of the opportunities presented to her as a director.

She credits the trailblazers who came before her for kicking open the doors for black women — for instance Selma director Ava DuVernay and Beyoncé​ music video creator Melina Matsoukas.

It feels like this revolution where you’re seeing a shift in the characters being presented on screen and the people behind them that are telling it.– Karena Evans, actor and music director

“It feels like this revolution where you’re seeing a shift in the characters being presented on screen and the people behind them that are telling it,” Evans said.

As she chases another part of her career in the acting world, she says she feels a “responsibility to ensure the stories I’m telling are inclusive and representative.”

It’s a thought Evans revisits often while discussing her role in Firecrackers, a Canadian production that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival this month. The female-driven storyline follows two best friends planning to escape their dilapidated Ontario small town in pursuit of bigger ambitions in New York.

The trip is derailed on the eve of their departure when an ex-boyfriend steps in to extinguish the arrangements.

Firecrackers is directed by newcomer Jasmin Mozaffari who offers a bold examination of the financial walls that trap young women in lower class regions of the country. Evans plays one-half of the friendship alongside lead actress Michaela Kurimsky.

Shedding her directorial tendencies and opening herself to suggestion by outsiders is always a struggle, Evans said, but she credits Mozaffari for making the creation of Firecrackers feel natural. The actors were given time to learn about their characters and shape their backstories.

“Trusting the director, trusting the cinematographer, trusting everyone around me — that’s the hardest part,” she said.

“I could just completely close my eyes and fall back, that’s how much I trust Jasmin. As soon as I was in that space with her it was a complete energy shift.”

Evans has directed several Drake videos including God’s Plan. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Directing Drake’s videos

When Evans is directing a music video she takes a different collaborative approach that puts the performer first.

In the case of Drake, she proved herself with God’s Plan, a music video that featured the Toronto rapper handing out nearly $1 million US to Miami residents.

The video attracted plenty of attention and it wasn’t long before Drake hired Evans to direct another three videos, including his reunion with fellow cast members of Degrassi: The Next Generation in the music video for I’m Upset.

“My service in music videos is and was to the artist and their brand,” Evans said.

When you don’t have a formula for everything you do, and you approach each story and artist and each video uniquely, you get some good results from it– Evans, on directing music videos

“When you don’t have a formula for everything you do, and you approach each story and artist and each video uniquely, you get some good results from it.”

While Drake has expressed interest in filmmaking, and currently attached himself as an executive producer to a number of projects, Evans said she hasn’t offered him any advice on the craft.

“He knows stories, whether that be for his own brand or universal stories,” she said.

“Whatever he does will be super beneficial to that story and that team of people that are telling it.”

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