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Arnold Pinnock clutches an award after 'The Porter' wins the Award for Best Drama Series at the Comedy and TV Drama awards evening at the Canadian Screen Awards, in Toronto, on April 14.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

CBC’s historical saga The Porter swept the Canadian Screen Awards on Friday with 12 wins including best drama, wrapping a week of festivities that turned out to be a celebration of Black excellence in media.

The Porter, a TV drama about Black train porters in the 1920s, entered the race with a leading 19 nominations and claimed several marquee categories including best director for veteran Charles Officer and a guest performer prize for U.S. star Alfre Woodard.

Despite Friday’s decisive triumph, producers have said The Porter will end with a single season due to funding woes, but those involved in the show’s creation said the night’s success served as validation.

“We made this show in a time that we desperately needed to reclaim the narrative, to be the heroes of our stories and not the victims, and to show our lives. To be any part of that, I’m deeply honoured,” said co-showrunner Marsha Greene in her acceptance speech for best writing on a drama.

The show’s big wins came a day after Clement Virgo’s film Brother, a coming-of-age tale about Black boyhood, won a record 12 awards, including best picture.

Meanwhile the CBC comedy Sort Of nabbed seven prizes, including best comedy and a best performer nod for star Bilal Baig.

The TV-focused Screen Awards gave the best drama performer prize to Hamza Haq of CTV’s Transplant, while the supporting performer prizes went to Ennis Esmer for the CTV comedy Children Ruin Everything and the late Christopher Plummer for the Global drama Departure.

Trophies were handed out at a glitzy in-person gala that reinstated pre-pandemic celebrations for the first time in four years, including pre- and post-show receptions and red carpet fanfare.

“The awards are almost secondary. The people are the reason I’m excited to be here tonight. It’s just a joy to be with friends,” said Amanda Brugel, who took home the award for best guest performance for her work on Sort Of.

“I’m a suburban mom, so this is my night out with friends.”

The bash also introduced gender-neutral acting categories, which organizers have said is intended to better represent the country’s diverse creative community, including gender non-conforming performers.

Baig, who stars as a gender-fluid millennial navigating work and romantic relationships in Sort Of, has said the show’s actors chose not to submit for last year’s awards because the categories specified male and female performers.

“It’s great that this change was made. It’s kind of a long time coming. I hope we continue to find ways to include people. I’m hopeful that the CSAs are really excited by this change as well,” Baig said ahead of their big win.

Several high-profile stars were presented with special awards, including comedy veteran Catherine O’Hara who received the Icon Award for ongoing contribution to the media industry at home or abroad; Hollywood A-lister Ryan Reynolds who was honoured with the Humanitarian Award for his philanthropy; and TV-turned-film star Simu Liu who received the Radius Award for making waves globally.

In her speech, O’Hara told the audience that she hopes their lives are filled with laughter, as hers has been.

“I know what I’m saying is not particularly humorous, but once you’ve been made an icon apparently you’re no longer funny. So thank you for that,” O’Hara said. “No really, thanks, a lot.”

Liu also won the Screen Award for best host of a live entertainment special for his work on last year’s Juno Awards.

Friday’s event capped four days of festivities dedicated to film, news, sports and genre categories including children’s and reality television.

Highlights of the various awards shows will be broadcast Sunday in an hour-long special hosted by Samantha Bee on CBC and CBC Gem.

At Thursday’s film-focused awards show, Virgo’s Scarborough, Ont.-set Brother dominated. It also won for best adapted screenplay, best directing, and earned performing awards for Lamar Johnson and Aaron Pierre, who portray the complex relationship between two Jamaican-Canadian siblings growing up in the 1990s.

“I think the more we empower Black artists to be at the forefront as far as representation, the more success we’re going to find in there,” actor Stephan James said on the red carpet ahead of the show.

James and his brother Shamier Anderson founded the Black Academy, which last year hosted the inaugural Legacy Awards to celebrate Black creatives.

“Look at what Brother did last night,” James continued. “Clement Virgo is not a new filmmaker. He’s a guy who’s been around for a very long time, so it just feels good to finally be getting the eyes in the way we’re supposed to. The fight continues but we’re definitely making progress.”

The Porter features a largely Black cast and is backed by a largely Black Canadian creative team, including writers and showrunners Marsha Greene, Annmarie Morais, and co-creator Arnold Pinnock.

Executive producer Jennifer Kawaja said in February that the show’s U.S. partner BET Plus is not backing a second season, even though CBC has said it would like to broadcast more episodes. Kawaja said efforts failed to find a replacement backer in the United States and Britain.

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