Name: Karena Evans
Job title: Director and actor
Currently lives in: Toronto and Los Angeles
Education: Began a BFA in film studies at Ryerson University before dropping out to work with Director X
Most people bring a store-bought gift and maybe some snacks to a birthday party, but, growing up, Karena Evans always brought something special. Whenever it was time to celebrate her sibling or parents, Evans would hop on the family desktop and edit videos documenting the person’s journey and what she loved about them. “I was pretty fixated on how people came to be,” says Evans, “but it wasn’t until I began studying the craft in film school and in theatre and acting classes that I truly understood that my obsession with understanding how the human heart changes is, in fact, what is at the core of storytelling.”
She initially pursued her passion for storytelling by enrolling in Ryerson University, but it was actually a text message that led Evans to her big break. While she was still in school, a family friend (Toronto legend and producer Boi-1da) slipped her Director X’s contact info. “It was a real moment of fight or flight for me,” recalls Evans. “I was quite nervous to reach out, but I thought, ‘I can stay in the same position I’m in now or…I can take a risk.’”
Spoiler alert: She took the risk. And it paid off big time. At 23, Evans has now directed music videos for SZA (“Garden”) and Drake (BET’s Video of the Year “God’s Plan,” “Nice for What” and “I’m Upset”). She has also earned several acting credits, including a role on TV series Mary Kills People and the lead in indie coming-of-age film Firecrackers, which currently has a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Last year, she won the prestigious Lipsett Award, becoming the first woman ever to do so. “I am definitely not the first or only woman deserving of this award, but I hope that in being recognized I will not be the last,” says Evans.
The born-and-raised Torontonian considers herself lucky to be coming up in a time when there is a demand for new, diverse voices—and to have the opportunity to work with artists at the forefront of that change. “But I find that regardless of what set I’m on or what room I’m in, I always have to work tenfold to gain the respect from anyone around me,” she says, noting that people seem to find it especially challenging to take direction from a young Black woman. So how does she overcome those barriers? “I focus my energy on the bigger picture: the story, the message and who it will touch and reach,” she says.
As she continues to write her story of success, Evans hopes to inspire other women “to see themselves and truly understand that they have a voice too.” And with that in mind, what she hopes to bring to the screen is simple yet powerful: “Truth. Diversity. Representation. And great fucking stories.”