Cover photography: joanna gray | STYLIST: Lisa Williams | MAKEUP: Gregory Graveline | HAIR: Romeo Lewis | DRESS: AKA The Store | JEWELS: Mark Lash Jewelry
I’m not sure why we didn’t jump on this idea of featuring artists on our cover right from the start. We are by artists for artists – this just makes the absolute most sense. I mean, what is more beautiful than allowing an artist to be themselves?! It is an honour to capture these moments. This time with the beautiful Arisa Cox – Host and Executive Producer of Big Brother Canada – Season 10 which is on now on Global TV. She is a two-time nominee as Best Host at the Canadian Screen Awards. She has worked in Canadian Television for over 20 years, and besides Big Brother Canada, Arisa is known best for U8TV: The Lofters, E! Canada, CBC’s The National and the Disney movie Camp Rock 2. Arisa is new to my life; however, I feel like I’ve already known her for a lifetime. What a blessing! We met one day as I walked my dog past her house. ‘Zeke’ is definitely a conversation starter. Making friends as an adult isn’t always easy… but this time is was. Arisa was kind, forthcoming and real. And now I have the pleasure of calling her friend
and having her featured in Efe. She’s pretty amazing. Check her out!
How did it all start?
If you had told me, when I was a little girl with braids and bow legs and her nose in a book, that I would have the life I have now… I actually would have believed it. Even as a child, I loved imagining alternate futures and to this day I still do. But having three beautiful kids, a husband and a career that I love – all while rocking my natural hair – is one reality I’m so grateful for. I hope the ancestors feel my gratitude.
Is being on television everything you dreamt it to be?
Being on television was never something I envisioned as a child, but I do remember always wanting a BIG LIFE. My parents emigrated to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago as young people, and coming from very modest beginnings always gave me the sense that UP was the only direction to go. Growing up, my parents weren’t together, but I marvelled at how they both could light up a room with their presence, their effortless charm and humour, their ability to really see the people around them and absorb wisdom and insight from everyone they met. My mother, the joyful, loving empath, with a Trini saying ready for any occasion. My father, the artistic, witty deep thinker who knew everybody. The essence of who they are echo in me and echoed all through my life.
Their success had nothing to do with money and everything to do with leaving joy in their wake. It’s something I have always, intentionally and unintentionally tried to do. There was a lot of love in our house and now with my own family I can understand how important that love was in creating a deep sense of confidence in me. A belief that no matter how imperfect I am or how many challenges come my way, I can earn the big life I have always wanted. I never planned a destination, but was always determined to enjoy the journey and live without regrets. And somehow, someway, through a very twisty career road that took me through reality tv, writing, producing, broadcasting, and reporting, I landed here as the host and EP on a brilliant, popular staple of Canadian Television. It’s the fulfillment of a dream I didn’t know I had.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned along the way?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that staying open and present and empathetic to those around you is a great state to be in. And that allows you to constantly be learning and growing and gaining inspiration from those around you. I have always instinctually known that the teachers in your life are only *sometimes* actual teachers. That being said, you know how I mentioned how my mother has a saying for every occasion? I wasn’t exaggerating. The very sayings she rattled off all though my childhood in her sweet, soft sing-song Trini accent now find themselves falling off my tongue to my own children on the daily. The wisdom in these sayings and not just words to live by, they’re the soundtrack of my life. In fact, I can share some here – as you never know if a reader needs a gem to get them through a challenging time – because God knows these are strange times and we need all the help we can get!
“Drunk or sober, mind your business”
This one has nothing to do with drinking – it simply means that no matter what distractions are in front of you, make sure to prioritize the most important things. Take time to separate things that we need to do from the things we want to do… and do those first. Book the doctor appointment before booking the nail appointment. Pay the bill on time before shopping online. Send the invoice before doom-scrolling Twitter. Always take care of your affairs! But you knew that already. Full disclosure, I have made this mistake over and over as I am an incredibly gifted procrastinator. I think that’s why journalism was for me – the rush and speed of those deadlines made it impossible for me to succumb to a major personal failing. Listen, all we can do is try!
“It takes two hands to clap”
I love this one because it’s a reminder that we need each other. No man is an island. Learning how to collaborate and listen as much as you talk means that incredible things can be achieved when we can work together towards a greater end. Last year, after eight years as host of Big Brother, I was announced as an Executive Producer on Big Brother Canada. It came during the Black Lives Matter awakening of 2020, when the dams had broken to allow conversations that Black people had been having since forever to become mainstream. Companies were being called out. The media was being called out. The spotlight was hot on racism and inequities in Justice, Education, Healthcare, Housing and more. And knowing that the spotlight could and would move on, I took that opportunity to push and press for the evolution in the way we looked at diversity on our screens in this country.
I’ve been the only Black woman in too many classrooms, casts, assignment meetings, and boardrooms and I was over being told that’s just the way it was. It isn’t a lack of talent holding too many Black and brown people back, it is opportunity. When I announced that going forward, Big Brother Canada casts would be a minimum of 50% Black, Indigenous and people of colour, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. We were able to be leaders in a tide of changes that have had a huge impact on representation in media and popular culture in North America. Too many young people have felt reduced, stereotyped or simply invisible on television, and my show publicly committed to changing that, and committed to working hard to critically improve representation behind the camera as well. American juggernaut CBS adopted a similar 50% rule across their entire network
But it takes two hands to clap. If I didn’t have a progressive Showrunner and team and broadcaster with vision, this would have died on the vine. If I didn’t have the support of friends and fans in the Reality TV world in Canada and the US and beyond – and the risks they took in speaking up – expanding our definition of inclusion in order to level the playing field would still be a theoretical conversation and not a reality. We had something to prove. The first season to which we applied this new rule was a massive, critical success. It had to be, and it was. I’m grateful for all of it. Now eventually this achievement will seem so small, so obvious… and that’s exactly what I hope for. Change can be seen as impossible, right up until the time it isn’t.
“You cannot pour from an empty cup”
This one is so laughably obvious, but it’s a truth that constantly gets forgotten. Especially when social media makes it seem that everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing and they’re doing it flawlessly. I mean I have failed and flopped in my life more than I can count, but how on earth would you have great stories without the mistakes? But ‘please take care of yourself’ cannot be said enough at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic that seems to have been going on forever. Find joy where you can, be gentle with yourself, forgive yourself for not being all things to all people. If your cup feels dangerously low, carve out some time for the things you love to do. Ignore the pressure to monetize it. Get your vitamins. Drink water. Laugh. Let the scale get dusty under your bathroom cabinet. Lean in if you want to, but give yourself permission to lean out. If you imagine looking back at this time 20 years out, what will you remember? Let that guide you. Fill up your cup… then help fill up someone else’s. We’re all in this together. I’m rooting for you!