Remember Drake’s emotionally charged, award-winning video “God’s Plan,” in which he gave away almost a million dollars? And “Nice for What,” in which he celebrates actresses like Issa Rae, Tiffany Haddish and Tracee Ellis Ross? They were both directed by 25-year-old Toronto native Karena Evans. And she was only 22 at the time. Evans got her big break when she interned for famous Canadian music-video director (and now her mentor) Director X. “Working at Director X’s company [provided] the kind of pace and invaluable hands-on learning experience I had been searching for,” she says. “[He] opened the door for me when he offered to sign me as a director to his company, and I ran through that door and never looked back.” As well as directing music videos for SZA and Coldplay, she received the Prism Prize Lipsett Award for her innovative and creative approach to music-video art—the first woman ever to be given this prestigious honour. In 2020, Evans (who has acting credits too) made the jump from music videos to television. She directed the pilot episode of the Starz show P-Valley, a drama about strippers in the Mississippi Delta, an episode of Snowfall, John Singleton’s series about the crack epidemic, and the first two episodes of HBO Max’s highly anticipated new Gossip Girl series. To say that Evans’ career is on the rise is a huge understatement—she has already smashed through the ceiling.
“I set out on my quest to understand stories through acting and directing, and I dove into both at the same time. Back in Toronto, I took acting classes at Straeon Acting Studios while simultaneously making low-budget music videos and short films, writing my own stories and studying at Ryerson University.”
“One of my first music videos was a project I [used] my own money to fund. When Boi-1da—a legendary producer who also happens to be a family friend—connected me with Director X and I went into his production office for an interview, I showed him that video. While I cringe at it now, I can still see my heart in it, and at the time, it was all I had to show that represented me as the storyteller I am.”
“P-Valley deeply impacted me as an artist and as a person. I grew faster and reached a deeper understanding than I ever had in my life. As a kid, I was always fascinated with music videos, but in many instances, I was uncomfortable while watching them. Later, I understood this feeling to be a discomfort with how I was represented onscreen. I fundamentally disagreed with how women, and particularly women of colour, were presented in this space…. So I made it my personal goal to—when- ever and wherever I could—subvert this objectification and hypersexualization. I’ve carried that with me into the long- form narrative, and P-Valley was the first TV show [through which] I was able to express it.”
“I’m proud to be a part of the reimagining of this world. My goal—alongside Josh Safran, creator and showrunner—in telling this story was to maintain what is so beloved, classic and iconic about the original but evolve it in such a way that it represents the world in which we actually live.”
“Judas and the Black Messiah. It’s undeniably one of the top films of this decade. It’s masterful storytelling on all levels, from the poignant direction to the intentional cinematography and the absolutely gripping and deeply honest performances. Chairman Fred Hampton lives on in the spirit of this film, and the spirit of this film is why I got into storytelling.”
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.