CBC’s The Porter spins Black Canadian history into artful drama

Set a century ago, this series about the path to the first Black workers' union brings its story to crackling, contemporary life

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      THE PORTER (Annmarie Morais, Marsha Greene). New episodes Mondays through April 11. 

      Set in the early 1920s, as the world recovers from the losses of World War I and the flu pandemic, The Porter is an ambitious, expansive drama about the long road to the formation of the first Black workers' union: an association of railroad porters who pushed back against exploitative labour conditions, corporate apathy and the casual, cruel racism of the time.

      Star Trek: Discovery’s Ronnie Rowe, Jr. is the idealistic Zeke Garrett, determined to work within the system to bring about change; his efforts are complicated by his best friend and coworker Junior Massey (British actor Aml Ameen, recently seen in I May Destroy You), who’s using his position as an invisible worker to smuggle whisky from Montreal to Chicago.

      Junior’s absences similarly complicate the life of his wife Marlene (Mouna Traoré, of Rookie Blue and Murdoch Mysteries), a Black Cross nurse trying to establish a clinic in her underserved, largely Black neighbourhood of Saint-Antoine while also caring for their young son. (Alfré Woodard has a key role as a brothel owner who becomes an invaluable ally to Marlene’s work.)

      The show—created and developed by Arnold Pinnock, Bruce Ramsay, Aubrey Nealon and showrunners Morais and Greene—employs the HBO model, using its key characters to reveal a much larger world with dozens of other stories playing out around them; to quote The Wire, there’s a Dickensian aspect to its scale and its specificity. And directors Charles Officer (who cast Rowe in Akilla’s Escape) and RT Thorne (Utopia Falls) bring those stories to life with an eye for human drama rather than a stuffy history lesson.