In Conversation with Ronnie Rowe Jr. on Black Cop

Every September, Torontonians eagerly wait for the arrival of TIFF and its noteworthy films and spectacular talent. This year, TIFF mounted over 336 films through a range of genres and early releases. It’s my favourite time of year. Not only are stars brought in from all over the world, the festival is special in that it is a great place for new and emerging talent to shine in. Some are right from our own backyard. Ronnie Rowe Jr. is a Toronto native who is hot on our radar. He stars in his first feature film Black Cop, which premiered at TIFF, a spectacular feat for someone new to film.

I caught Ronnie Rowe Jr. on his way to a fitting for a TV show in Toronto that he can’t quite talk about yet, but something tells me that Black Cop won’t be the last we see of this talented individual.

Photo Credit: TIFF

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first get involved in acting?

Ronnie Rowe Jr.: I was actually forced into acting funny enough, because of a grade six teacher. He was really into musical theatre so he forced all the grade sixes to audition for these plays. One of them was Oliver Twist, another one was Greece, and another one was the Sound of Music. Through this opportunity, that’s when I fell in love with acting. I got to play Danny Zuko, so I might have been the first black Danny Zucko. I got to play Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, I was the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

I thought it was amazing that I could remember the lines. It never felt like I was memorizing.

K: Did it feel like second nature to you?

RRJ: Yeah, I thought it was so much fun and the most fun I’ve had. I got to be free and do it in front of people and they enjoyed it.

The lights really helped. I got nervous at one point, and thought, “oh, I can’t even see anybody.”

Photo Credit: HO-Cylla von Tiedemann

K: What has it been like building your career in the Toronto film and theatre scene?

RRJ: I just came off a theatre tour with Soulpepper, we remounted Kim’s Convenience. We got to go Off Broadway because of it.

I started doing independent theatre about five or six years ago with Unit 102. Through that, more people in the theatre scene started to see me. I got invited to audition for Tarragon, which I booked, but funding fell through.

I did a play with Obsidian Theatre and over at Theatre Passe Muraille and from that, I got to tour Canada with Kim’s Convenience. I got to tour Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, and Off Broadway all this year. It’s been a great year so far.

K: You’ve hit all the major Toronto theatre venues.

RRJ: I love theatre so much. Every time I come off of a theatre run I become this different tool. You get to work the same material for so long and you can’t get bored with it, you have to become fascinated with it, dig deeper, find more things and keep it fresh. It’s a great teacher for me.

K: Do you feel as though it builds a different skill set as opposed to preparing for a film scene?

RRJ: I feel as though it sharpens my actor because of the repetitions. Anytime I’m doing a theatre run I’m always working that material. You discover so many things. The more you say something, the more it comes to life. I love the process of theatre because it’s pretty long.

I think film is like that as well. You get to draw out certain aspects, and you’re trying to find these within the character and the themes. Those processes feel very similar to me.

Photo Credit: @RILEYSMITHPHOTO

K: Does one feel more like home than the other?

RRJ: I feel very comfortable in both theatre and film, and I love them both for different reasons. With theatre, it’s the immediacy, and the intimacy. With film, it’s that it’s so character and story driven. It’s about those moments and that’s where the similarity lies. These moments are so key in theatre and in film.

It’s the same with TV, but I feel as though you get to flush out a bit more with those two mediums.

K: It’s nice to have that immediate connection with your audience through theatre.

RRJ: There’s nothing like it. Whenever there is that first joke in a play, to kind of catch the audience within that state of performance is amazing. Then, you just dance with it for the rest o it. 

K: So you’ve been a natural since the beginning?

RRJ: It just really makes me happy, being up there and expressive and vulnerable… I love it because it’s so scary. 

I found that within the journey of self-discovery and trying to find out who you are, I always needed art to be part of what I do, whether it’s poetry or acting, I need to be artistically expressive.

K: Do you write poetry as well? Did you start as a kid?

RRJ: I do. I’ve been doing it for awhile but it’s just now that I’ve started sharing my pieces more.

K: Do you remember the first time you showed someone a poem?

RRJ: For sure. I’m pretty sure it was a female. 

It’s always nice to get feedback and when people resonate with what you’re saying. Just like with acting or any other form of expression.

K: What is it like to have a film premiering in TIFF?

RRJ: I haven’t seen the film in its entirety yet, so the premier will be the first time I’m actually seeing it. It’s a weird thing, where I’m going to be judging myself…

I’m from Toronto and to have my first feature film premier at home. It’s pretty epic. I have such a great support base and family and friends that are so excited to see the film. I get to experience this first thing with them. It’s pretty awesome.

K: Tell us about Black Cop. How did this collaboration first begin?

RRJ: The movie is a satire/drama. It’s a man’s struggle between his duty and who he is as an individual. Through every day life, he experiences profiling, or being profiled by a police officer and it sets him over the edge to take things into his own hands and set out on a path of revenge.

K: What were your first thoughts on the script?

RRJ: I’ve worked with Cory Bowles (director) before on one of his short films called Free Throw. That was four years ago, and he always told me that we were going to work together again. Last year, I get a call and he says he has a script that he wants me to look at.

I read it and thought that it was dangerous. He asked me to come in and tape and to show the producers what I could do. Then they said they wanted me to do the damn thing.

We filmed it in twelve shooting days on a micro budget. I’m really happy with the things I’ve seen based on what we had to work with. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s a dream come true. Most actors I know want to be a lead, but a lead in a feature film and one that has life, a real story behind it. For it to be premiered at home… I couldn’t have wrote it any better.

K: How does it feel to be a leading man?

RRJ: It feels fantastic. It’s something that I was always capable of being and now I’m thankful for the opportunity to showcase that and for other people to see what I already believed.

K: What can Black Cop tell its audiences, especially considering the current political climate around the world and issues around profiling?

RRJ: I feel as though it’s a very timely film. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to tell you something, but what it does is allow you to observe a different perspective. A perspective that I’m sure that not everybody considers. Based on how things go down, you know that not everybody is considered, or else things would be different if they did.

This film will start conversations and open up conversations that you may have not started before.

Photo Credit: TIFF

K: Black Cop reveals its protagonist as “calculatingly taking control of terror rather than submitting to it.” Is that part of the revenge story you were talking about? What does this mean for your role?

RRJ: Definitely. It means that he begins to profile the profiler. We have heard or seen things through social media, and some of these things may be what you encounter with this gentleman, because he’s heard it. He’s thinking, “let’s see how it feels when you go through it.”

It may promote empathy. It’s easier to sympathize with something, when you see someone like you go through it. The film gives you this opportunity.

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One month, One Style: Statement Zippers

Whether you like it or not, summer is coming to an end. But if there is something that really makes me excited about fall is that the new season refreshes our wardrobes. Though, truth be told, the athleisure trend will continue to play a role in the industry this fall. To maintain practicality, which goes along with the sporty casual lifestyle denoted by athleisure, designers draw inspiration from little details related to the après-ski look. Zippers is one of them.

Zippers have been spotted everywhere from the runway to the streets, and, since in fashion every detail counts, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that circle zipper pulls found their way, slowly but surely, into the world of everyday fashion. Just a functional accessory? Not anymore. Below, five creative ways to let the versatile sporty style transfer from the treadmill to your daily life.

Zip-neck sweaters

Credit: Popculturelive.net

This fall, fashion is serving up a fresh way to pull off the sweater weather look. Zippers give a modern twist to the cozy sweater — it’s not only versatile but also gives your appearance a sense of effortless sophistication. You can tuck the sweater into the waist of a wide-leg trouser for a ’70s inspired look, or pair it with a long flowy skirt for a perfect balance between sporty and feminine. For an office look, pair it with a formal suit – the contrast between the casual zip neck sweater and the classy elegant suit blend together and complement each other.

Polo shirts 

Credit: Victoria Adamson

The exposed zipper can also appear on shirt fronts, usually with a circular pull. It’s not only a practical thing — it acts as an accessory and lifts your outfit, especially in cases where the puller is large enough to make a statement. A singular zipper has the power to upgrade a basic black polo, as it gives the shirt a retro feel. It can also function as a layering piece once the temperature starts to drop. For a fashion forward look, choose a neon color plastic zipper that gives the top a sporty feel with a modern vibe.

Ankle length boots

Credit: Peony Lim

As genuine a wardrobe staple, ankle boots are one of the most versatile item all year round, plus it’s never goes out of style.

As a genuine wardrobe staple, ankle boots are one of the most versatile items all year round. Plus, it’s never really out of style. This fall, they are getting a little update. The conspicuous zipper on the side brings modern edge even to the simplest classic booties. For the early days of autumn, simply pair these boots with a floaty sundress and a biker jacket, or style them with a pair of leggings and an oversized knit.

Dresses

Credit: Phil Oh

Visible zippers on a dress makes it edgy with a sexy twist. Whether it is a little black dress, full skirt bottom, or a gown, almost every style can look great with a zipper in the front or in the back. For a glam evening look, add a bit of drama by wearing a dress with an open zipper on the back as part of the design. you will turn heads with your every step.

Jeans and trousers 

Credit: Vetements-x-Levis

Designers are constantly looking for creative ways to spice up their collections. Vetements is definitely one of them. In their last collaboration with Levi’s, the brand designed front to back zipper jeans that also zips down in between the butt cheeks. We do not encourage you to take the zipper trend too far, but we do believe that adding an edgy twist to a standard pair of jeans never hurt anybody. Exposed zipper pullers work very well with A line silhouette trousers or high waisted skinny jeans. The outstanding zippers give a fashionable yet casual feel, while minimizing the need for additional accessories.

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Robin Fitzsimon at Etsy: Made in Canada 2017

Robin Fitzsimon, the founder of Fitzy, a brand dedicated to modern leather goods, opened her business by simply creating a new item every day for a year. The 365 project first turned into an Etsy shop, then it became Fitzsimon’s full-time job. Sharing a studio in Toronto with paper artist Ali Harrison, Fitzsimon makes modern leather backpacks, bow ties, cord keepers, and more. Her new green and gray leather items will appear in Etsy: Made in Canada show at the MaRS building on September 23.

Robin Fitzsimon

Sveta: Robin, your 365 project sounds really inspiring. Tell me how it helped you to start your business.

Robin:  It was kind of crazy, but also really good. I made something every day for a year, and I posted it online by midnight. I did drawing, painting, sculpture… I started doing jewellery and working with leather. And then I started doing leather jewellery. Because I was posting every day, I had friends and family following. So they knew if I didn’t get it done on time.

I had a lot of people saying, Oh, your stuff is really great! You should start selling it. I never thought that I would own my business. I haven’t been to a business class or something like that. But with Etsy, it’s so easy to start your own shop, and I was like, Why not? I opened my Etsy shop in 2013. And then I sell my pieces online, I sell to stores mostly in North America but some overseas as well. It just kind of snowballed, and then it became a full-time.

S: Were you still at school at that time?

R: No, I had finished school. I went to OCAD, and I have a BFA in Sculpture and Installation. I was looking for a way that’ll bring some spontaneity back to my art work ‘cause when you are making art for school, it always has to be very well thought out. It takes a long time. So I missed doing stuff like quickly and not overthinking things. That is what the 365 project was for me. I only had until midnight and couldn’t overthink – I just had to get it done and not worry about it too much. And sometimes I made the stuff that was not really great, but sometimes it was really great.

S: What is the hardest and what is the best thing in running your own brand?

R:  The hardest part is just making sure you have enough money to pay your bills and buy materials. You make more money in different times of the year. You have to account for that. That’s may be the one thing that you don’t love. The best thing is…I don’t even know. I love being in charge and making my own schedule. It’s just me, so I can decide how I wanna do it. Being able to work with your hands every day and make your own things is really amazing. It’s really cool to be like, I made that from start to finish. It’s a real sense of pride in doing that. It’s also really fun to be surrounded by creative people.

S: What was the first item you sold and how did you feel about it?

R: The first piece I sold was a green leather bracelet. It was in that moment when my business finally felt real.

S: Do you always make your pieces by yourself?

R: I make everything myself in the studio except for the screen printed pieces. I have a printer that does the screen printing for me.

S: Where do you get your materials from?

R: Lots of different places. All our hardware is a manufacture of the States, and all of our leather is from local suppliers.

S: What is the main element of your style?

R: I always try to use really nice hardware, and especially in my purses I like to use copper rivets, so they add an interesting colour to the piece that you don’t see everywhere.

S: And what makes the rest of your pieces unique?

R: I think it’s the aesthetic. I try to go for something very clean and minimal. Everything is there for a reason. I don’t want any extra pips and bows and things like that. A lot of my pieces are stuff that you’ve never seen before.

S: Do you organize your pieces in collections?

R: I’m just trying to design items that people will really love and that will last for a really long time. So I try to do less but better. I don’t want to come up with a new piece all the time – I want to make sure that everything I’m making is done very specifically. Like I’m trying design a bag in a way that makes sense for what the bag needs to be.

Though, I’m starting to do kind of seasonal colours. The dark green leather and the grey leather are both brand new for fall [points at freshly-made backpack and bag hanging on the wall of her studio]. And for the first time you’ll be able to get them at the show. It’s been fun to work with the colour rather than do just black and brown, which are nice classic leather colours, but people seem to really like the colour.

S: How would your describe your customers?

R: Usually, urban women 25 to 35 who really appreciate handmade. Generally, creative types looking for something cool but also want to spend their money on something they really need.

S: I know you’ve participated in One of a Kind and Makeology craft shows. Is it your first time at Etsy: Made in Canada?

R: I always do Etsy: Made in Canada show. It’s so good. I wasn’t actually there last year, but I had my sister running the booth, and it went very well.

S: What do you like most about shows like that?

R: It’s only one day, and all the customers are so good. Everyone is really excited ‘cause everybody likes that scene. It’s like our perfect target market. It’s kind of going to a summer camp. You get to see all of your maker-friends. You only see each other at the shows because everyone is working. Usually craft shows that’s when the community comes together.

S: Are there any designers/makers who inspire you?

R: I wouldn’t say I have one favourite designer. It’s always nice to look to other makers to get an advice and inspiration. Like Arounna Khounnoraj from bookhou. She’s been my mentor. She’s so generous with her help. She came up to me during One of a Kind show. She’s very successful in a Toronto scene, and she gave me all that amazing advices.

S: How did you used those advices?

R: I used to hand sew before I made bags, when I just made little accessories. And she was just like, Why don’t you have a leather sewing machine? You could make stuff so much bigger because hand sewing takes so long. And then I did, and it was a game changer. It was so much better, I started making bags. It’s great to be able to make stuff so much faster than before.

S: What else besides new leather colours should the attendants expect from you?

R: We’ll also have the brand new large backpacks and Toronto T-shirts. It’s like a spin on the ways people say “Toronto”. So you know, if you are from Toronto, you don’t say the second “T”.

S: Any special plans for the near future?

R: I’m trying to do more teaching. I teach leather workshops too. I’ll be doing one at the show. I have an online workshop through Skillshare. I want to do it more often.

S: What is your favourite Fitzy item right now?

R: It’s a mini backpack, the little kind of triangle one. That is new from spring. I try to ride my bike as much as I can in the summer, but regular purses don’t work very well when you riding your bike, so I wanted a cute little backpack that worked well as a purse, but that was hands-free. Right now it’s my favourite, but it will probably change in a few months.

Etsy: Made in Canada is happening on September 23rd at MaRS Discovery District. Continue following our fashion and lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Designer Profile: Luar

Raul Lopez, designer. Photo courtesy of Vogue.

Raul Lopez makes clothes for the future, where the patriarchy has crumbled and AI bots’ styles are the most coveted thing in fashion. Lopez began his career as one of the founding members of Hood By Air, but left to start his own brand, previously labeled Luar Zepol. After a two-year hiatus, Lopez returned to fashion in 2017 recharged and launched Luar.

Dystopia and unabashed femininity run rampant throughout Luar’s collections. Never shedding its street wear or club sensibility, Luar encompasses all things futuristic and is most inspired by technology. The brand is for the progressive minded, for those who understand that gender is constructed and that labels are something of the past and limiting. No, skirts and dresses are not just for women. They’re for everyone. Lopez’s personal philosophy, one engrained in all his projects, is that fashion and music go hand in hand, one cannot exist without the other. How else do you create an encompassing culture and community? It’s easy to see the kind of space that Lopez occupies when you look at his collections.

Lopez uses his lines to express his opinions and tell stories through his garments. In his first few Luar Zepol collections, it was an exploration of the designer’s identity and upbringing. With Luar, Lopez is using his platform to express his opinions and critique what’s happening around him. 2018 was the designer’s first venture into a full women’s ready to wear collection and, as he explained it, “was focused on the type of woman who is in touch with her hyper-masculine side, one on a power trip and one who is looking for revenge on any man that has ever tried to make her feel ashamed.” He adds, “She is complex — she loves a night out on Dyckman Street [in New York’s Inwood area], but also lives for an elegant and classy moment.” In both his women and men’s lines, Lopez sent out models in deconstructed business people and bankers’attire: ties sewn together to form skirts, deconstructed blazers, and men’s shirts reformed to create something totally new. Trump-esque hair pieces attached to models and Wu Tang Clan’s lyrics “Cash Rules Everything Around me” sprinkled throughout the collection.

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True Americans, and Other News

‘The Water Garden’ (1909) by Childe Hassam (1859–1935 ), The Metropolitan Museum.