I recently spoke with filmmakers, Tichaona Tapambwa and Jabbari Weekes, about their new hit series on CBC Gem, Next Stop. Structured as small, cinematic snapshots of the lives of young, Black Torontonians navigating the city’s “competitive, expensive, and rapidly changing” landscape, this comedic anthology is a little more than the basecamp for shared cultural experiences and colloquialisms. It is activism that calls black filmmakers and actors to transcend the monolithic norm of Canadian television and film and occupy spaces that cultivate black storytelling.
JAMIE-LEE TROWERS: You’ve described the success of Next Stop as unexpected, but amidst the growing popularity of the show, do you feel it is thriving in its purpose?
TICHAONA: Yes, definitely! My experience as a black Torontonian is not an anomaly and that became more apparent as I reflected on several conversations I had with Jabbari, most notably the infamous beef patty debate that anchors episode one. Black Toronto has a distinct identity, most tangible through culture and language. It forms a community—an exclusive and protective one. I wanted Next Stop to be the centre of gravity for these relatable experiences, primarily for black audiences, and it has done just that. From the Toronto accents to the distinct economic disparities such as renting an overpriced apartment, the series puts the culture into context and finds a balance between comedy, realism, and relatability.
JAMIE-LEE: It’s hard to talk about purpose without considering the origin of the series. When you first created Next Stop over a year ago, you released each episode on YouTube and generated local buzz that eventually caught the attention of CBC. That’s a major accomplishment, especially on a platform that is so saturated with content. What failures do you credit for your success?
TICHAONA & JABBARI: Well, it’s really twofold. Creatively, we did not initially engage with our audience, neither did we promote our work to the extent that it should have been. We took a more hands-off approach, choosing not to overthink and, in doing so, we created distance between ourselves and the audience we were trying to reach. Now, we understand that connecting, even where we have an idea about our shared black Torontonian lifestyles, helped us to form tailored personal experiences for viewers. From a filmmaking perspective, we didn’t understand how to maximize our budget through informed directorial choices. For example, for one of the episodes we chose a shoot location that was far, but was not critical to the narrative and it ended up being costly. After that, we acknowledged that every decision counts towards making the best version of the final product.
JAMIE-LEE: You briefly touched on connecting with your audience—How important is it as filmmakers to create symmetry between yourselves and the characters you create in Next Stop?
JABBARI: It is very important. All forms of writing are like dry snitching on yourself. They are versions of you (as a filmmaker) and your experiences that form the core foundation of storytelling in film. Using the raw material of a script, you can enhance your ideas and gain a fresh point of view through the characters. The way I see it, actors further inform the things we care about and give them more life and meaning.
JAMIE-LEE: One of the things I love about Next Stop is its timelessness. I haven’t lived in Toronto since 2015, but the iconic “beef patty debate” still takes me back to my 14 year old self and that was over 15 years ago. Is the implication of this kind of relatability good or bad?
JABBARI & TICHAONA: Specificity breeds relatability, so it’s not a bad thing at all. It’s beautiful that at this moment you can relate to that episode—it’s a capsule for years to come. We don’t know what the Black Toronto experience will look like five or ten years from now, but, through film, we can entrench the present and I think that’s effective.
JAMIE-LEE: Speaking of then, now, and the future, why is it important to have more exclusively black spaces, unapologetically, in Canadian television and film?
JABBARI: Because we have never had it! Traditionally, television and film in Canada has been overwhelmingly white. Creating spaces that are exclusively ours in the industry is exactly how we shift the narrative and control the capsule. When we are working on projects that are exclusively black, we can have conversations with people who understand us, can take our notes, and will not debate the essentialism of certain cinematographic decisions. We have a strong sense of our stories and the audience we are attracting. It is not about pleasing the industry; it is about pleasing the audience, and ultimately ourselves.
JAMIE-LEE: The reviews suggest that your audience is very happy with the series—so much so that you’re currently writing subsequent episodes. What can viewers expect from Next Stop in the future and how will season two leave room for newer audiences?
TICHAONA: For season two, we’re hoping Next Stop will not be self-funded. And, with that support, we would like to broaden the scope of our stories. We would like to expand our reach of the Black Toronto we want to see in film and tv. We are excited about exploring other spaces such as the younger generation of Torontonians and the LGBTQ+ community.
Tichaona and Jabbari view Next Stop not as a stepping stone, but rather an opportunity to frame black, Toronto culture in television and film—an opportunity to give their catalogue of work a platform where a voice has always existed. The journey has not been without its challenges. For the pair of filmmakers, funding is an ongoing dark cloud that penetrates production setbacks, long and stressful days and nights on set, and creative suppression. Despite that, Jabbari says, “there’s nothing more rewarding than recognizing when a directorial decision works and your audience gets it, like the tub of Vaseline as a prop in episode one.”
A few days before our interview, Tichaona and Jabbari received a Reelword Award for Standout Short film producers in Next Stop and I believe this accolade is a testament not only to where they are and how the series is doing, but a foreshadowing of the shifting of cinematic black bones in Canadian television and film. Where the beef patty debate will fall now and years to come, Tichaona and Jabbari say, “East End has it!”
You can watch the hit series, Next Stop, on CBS Gems.