Amanda Parris Talks Breaking the Ice and Breaking Bread on For the Culture


The award–winning writer, host and producer skipped the studio and travelled the world to share stories impacting Black people.

It’s one thing to plan a trip to six countries; it’s another to get to the heart of issues faced by communities in each through interviews with locals in their own spaces, no studios booked. That’s just what Amanda Parris did as creator and host of her latest CBC docuseries For the Culture, which explores topics impacting Black people across borders, from reparations to maternal health care. We caught up with Parris to talk about the importance of travel for the series, how sharing a meal can facilitate tough conversations and a few of her favourite cultural experiences.

enRoute You travelled around the world to uncover important stories impacting Black people for your latest TV show, For the Culture. What inspired this series?

Amanda Parris I pitched the series in 2020, which was obviously a very significant year for the world, and many of us were stuck inside our homes. I had this hunger to be out in the world and I was wondering: Will I ever get to see all these places that I’ve always wanted to go to?

Most of my connections with people were happening over social media and WhatsApp groups, and as grateful as I was for those platforms, I was hungry to have real–life conversations. So, the show was really birthed out of those two desires: the desire to see the world and the desire to be with people in real–life again.

March 28, 2024
Allison Hill, Lisa Keizer, Amanda Parris, Simone Thomas and Susan Walker sitting down to discuss the black hair industry in the episode The Business of Black Hair from For the Culture With Amanda Parris
"The Business of Black Hair" (Episode 3): Allison Hill, Lisa Keizer, Amanda Parris, Simone Thomas and Susan Walker.

ER What shaped the content?

AP The series is made up of the topics that were dominating my group chats, what my friends were talking about and what I was going through. “The Business of Black hair” episode, for example, is something that was inspired by conversations with my long–time hairstylist who would tell me about all her trials and tribulations in the industry. And the Black maternal health episode was inspired by my own experience of being pregnant in 2020 and having a challenging time with the health care system. That’s what shaped the pitch of the show, and what I pitched is very close to what we ended up creating.

ER In the trailer, you say, “I’m leaving the wars raging on social media, and I’m travelling to where the stories live.” Why was travel an essential part of the documentary?

AP Most of my career in media has really been about featuring and spotlighting Canadian stories, and I’m so grateful for that, but in my own identity, I’m always thinking across borders. I was born in London, England. My mom is from Grenada and my dad is from Venezuela. I feel like I’m constantly making connections and having these cross–cultural and cross–border conversations, and I’ve never really seen too many shows that make that the priority.

Also, most of my career has been hosting people in studio. In that setting, you’re inviting people in and shaping the conversation. I was very curious about what would change if I went to meet people where they lived, in their own spaces. I was inspired by Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – that show is legendary, and it was a sort of the North Star that guided how we wanted For the Culture to look and sound, even with the use of narration.

ER What surprised you the most on your journey?

AP How much changes when you meet people on their own turf. It’s so much easier to get to intimate places in a conversation when you’re in a space where somebody is already comfortable, whether that’s travelling to Los Angeles to visit comedian Gina Yashere, who welcomed us into her home on her birthday, or having dinner in London with cultural leaders who had never met before. In one instance, we did an interview sitting in a tree on the beach with a Grenadian performer, in part because we couldn’t find a venue. It really shifted the dynamics in such powerful ways.

The Golden State Freedom Park sign in Barbados
"Reparations" (Episode 6): Golden Square Freedom Park, Barbados.

ER Did you have a favourite destination?

AP It was my first time going to Barbados and I really loved it. People seem to be so fired up by the idea of radical change and the people we spoke with were so deeply proud of the leadership there. And, obviously, Barbados just recently became a republic and have severed their ties to the British monarchy, so there’s just such a feeling of charting a new path forward. It was infectious and amazing to be around. They are also doing such a good job of publicly remembering their history, which is remarkable to me.

ER If you could have added one more destination to the series, what would it be?

AP I’m still so sad that we didn’t get to go to Accra, Ghana. Accra regularly comes up in the “Diaspora Wars” episode because of the campaign by the Ghana government [that encouraged the African diaspora to reconnect with their roots by returning to Ghana]. I just wish we could have been on the ground and talked to people there about what the impact has been, with all these folks from the diaspora – particularly from the United States and the U.K. – moving to Ghana and accepting this invitation of return.

ER What advice do you have for people who want to explore Black culture and history at home or on their travels?

AP I’d say to make it a point to do some research. There are so many great Black travel bloggers who have created amazing lists of Black–owned restaurants, hotels or galleries to check out. There are so many resources available online. I also want to quote Dr. Andrea Davis, who we interviewed in the “Diaspora Wars” episode. She says: “I think wherever we go, we have a responsibility to know the history of that place, know the Black history of that place, to consider what that place needs and how our going either makes that possible or does not.” It’s a call to think about the impact of our presence in these places as well.

A man in Grenada pouring black oil into the palm of his hand in a tradition to honour their ancestors
"Diaspora Wars" (Episode 1): A man taking part in Jab–Jab in Grenada.
David Commissiong and Amanda Parris at Builders of Barbados Wall pointing to a brick with Parris' family name
"Reparations" (Episode 6): David Commissiong and Amanda Parris at Builders of Barbados Wall.

ER Are there any specific experiences you would recommend?

AP During the August Carnival in Grenada, I would check out J’ouvert, the early–morning kickoff to the festival, along with Jab–Jab, where people paint their bodies in black oil or mud. The tradition has a long history related to enslavement: There’s a story of an enslaved man who died by falling into a vat of molasses and came back to haunt the enslaver. It’s believed that this is the spirit everyone channels during Jab–Jab. People smear you with the oil, and at the end, everyone goes into the ocean to wash it off. There’s nothing like it in the world – it is a once in a lifetime experience.

If you’re in London, check out events that are happening at the Africa Centre. It has been around since the 1960s, but recently moved to very beautiful new facilities where they host exhibitions, author talks and live music shows. If you’re in Bridgetown, Barbados, I’d recommend visiting Golden Square Freedom Park. It’s a space of remembrance and reflection, and they have an incredible installation called the Builders of Barbados Wall, where bricks are carved with the surnames of every family that contributed to building the country.

ER Tell us about the best restaurant you discovered while filming.

AP The meal we had at Papa L’s Kitchen in London was my favourite. It’s an African fusion restaurant with strong Gambian influences. It was so good that even after filming there, I ended up going back with my entire family the night before we left the U.K. because I was like: You need to experience this food.

The Questionnaire

  • First travel memory?  When I was five years old, we came to Canada on vacation from the U.K. and I have a strong memory of sitting on the plane. I had my own seat and felt really grown–up. Then the plane started moving, and I got that funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, so I yelled out for my mom.

  • Dream seatmate? I had a dream seatmate, and he set the bar high. He helped me with my luggage, made hilarious small talk, but then stopped talking to give me space. He didn’t judge me for bawling my eyes out when I watched the movie Coco for the first time. He is such a lovely person that we ended up keeping in touch, and we are still friends to this day.

  • Window or aisle? Aisle. I need to stretch, and I hate asking people to get up when I need to go to the bathroom.

  • Bucket–list destination?  I can’t pick just one! There are so many places I want to visit.

  • Travel hack?  It’s not a hack, but I started travelling with the travel diffuser and it’s a game changer. As soon as I put on the diffuser with the Saje oil blend that I use at home, my hotel room smells familiar and just completely grounds me in an amazing way.

  • What are five things someone would find in your luggage? A travel pillow, an iPad with a long list of downloaded movies and shows, my travel diffuser, a prepacked toiletries bag that stays in my luggage, and an over–abundance of underwear. I once forgot underwear on a trip and now I overcompensate.

  • What’s on your travel playlist? I listen to “Timmy’s Prayer” by Sampha every single time my plane is landing.