The CBC series, Shoot the Messenger premiered last night with a strong opening episode laying the foundation for binge worthy television. The show follows young reporter Daisy Channing (Elyse Levesque), a young journalist who witnesses what she believes is a Somalian gang-related murder. As the story unfolds over eight episodes, Channing uncovers an underworld where ordinary Canadians are pawns in a corrupt game of power, politics, drugs and killing. While co-creator and director Sudz Sutherland says the show is not about Rob Ford, it’s hard not draw comparisons when the show has many of the same elements as the Ford saga; a determined investigative journalist, a political leader with lots of skeletons in his closet, drugs and a Somali connection.
In the first episode, Channing (Elyse Levesque) meets up with Hassan Ali (Araya Mengesha), a source claiming to have “something big”, but he never gets a chance to give Daisy the info. Gunfire erupts, Hassan is wounded and his close friend, Khaalid Suleman is killed. Hassan flees in his car, leaving a stunned Daisy to call 911. This sets off a chain of events that prove Channing is young, clumsy and desperate to prove herself as a journalist. So desperate, that she kills the wrong brother in her personal account of this incident, published for all of Toronto to read. This failure as a journalist opens the plotline for Shoot the Messenger to tell an intimate story of Somali-Canadian life in Toronto. Channing must tell the family that their “good son” Khaalid has died while Khaalif, leader of the Mogadishu gang still lives. It is a powerful and painful moment, and perhaps, the most gripping of the entire episode.
I caught up with Somalian-born Canadian actress Shadia Ali who plays Xanaan Suleman, the sister of Khaalid and Khaalif Suleman in Shoot the Messenger. I asked her about filming that scene, being a part of a truly Canadian drama, and how this story impacts the perception of the Somali community in Canada.
“When you are filming those strenuous scenes you definitely need a bottle of water and maybe a pillow at the end. I remember the cameraman being respectful and giving me time and space to express the emotion of the scene. You could hear a pin drop after each take. When you are gifted with powerful writing and a good storyline, you can just let it flow,” said Ali during our phone conversation.
The first episode does a very good job of establishing there is something troubling happening in Toronto, that a gang may be involved, but that the story you think you know is a half-truth on its best day. Shoot the Messenger features a multiracial cast and a strong minority storyline in a time where racism is often the main course at dinner table conversations. Bolstering this idea Ali says, “If I wasn’t a part of this cast, I would be rooting for this series. Amidst Black Lives Matter and racism in Canada it helps to humanize some of the issues being discussed. It is a good dose of reality. You’re going to see the domino effect, and how important every individual is; how your opinions and what you’re doing really does affect the community.”
I asked Ali how it felt to play an often negatively stereotyped group on screen, “I found it nerve-racking at first but after reading the script I really related to the character and her back story. I found myself melting into the character. It is too personal. I am just really proud. It was interesting telling my aunt in Flemingdon Park, and thinking about Somalis in Dixon City, and even in Ottawa. I know how important it was to put my best foot forward in paving a way to highlight the beauty of the Somali community.”
Through Shoot the Messenger, the husband and wife team Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness, put homegrown culture and talent on display effectively and smartly. Toronto born actor Lyriq Bent plays the lead homicide detective, who is also Daisy’s secret lover. And there are guest appearances from Barenaked Ladies lead singer Ed Robertson, and former NBA stars Jamaal Magloire and Rick Fox.
Sutherland and Holness have injected just enough tension, darkness and mystery to hold the viewer's attention.
Check your local listings.