Sat | Dec 15, 2018

For the love of film | Aisha Porter-Christie makes her mark as screenwriter

Published:Tuesday | January 30, 2018 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small/Gleaner Writer
Aisha Porter-Christie
James Frain (who plays villainous 'Ferdinand' in Orphan Black), Aisha Porter-Christie and Maria Doyle Kennedy (who plays matriarchal Siobhan).
Graeme Manson (creator of Orphan Black) and Aisha Porter-Christie.

Being recognised by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in any capacity is one goal of many western-based television-focused thespians and creators. Being gainfully employed as a thespian or a creator in Los Angeles is another. Young Jamaican screenwriter Aisha Porter-Christie has already achieved both, to some degree.

From a rural St Catherine community, Porter-Christie followed her childhood dreams of being a writer, and now lists BBC America's Emmy Award-winning series Orphan Black and Netflix's hit fantasy series Shadowhunters among her accomplishments.

"By age 10 I knew I wanted to be a writer," Porter-Christie, 29, told The Gleaner.

"I was born in Kingston but grew up in a tiny rural community near Old Harbour. There was no cable. There was no internet. But thanks to an endless supply of Archie comics, Nancy Drew Mysteries, and an overactive imagination, I survived," she said.

Teachers from Holy Childhood High School nurtured Porter-Christie's desire to write by pushing her to write short stories and enter essay competitions. "My mother [Thelma Porter] was a radio announcer at the time and it was my intention to follow in her footsteps to work in Jamaican media as a journalist. But I guess fate had other plans," she said.

It wasn't until moving to Toronto, Canada, at 17 years old to attend Ryerson University's RTA School of Media that she discovered an interest in screenwriting. "My love for the craft led me to do my master's in film at Columbia University in New York."

At that point, Porter-Christie's life went on an uptick. After writing a sample episode for award-winning television drama Breaking Bad, she earned a paid internship through the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which is the organisation behind the Emmy Awards. "The internship programme placed me on the SyFy Network series Defiance and I was later hired as a writers' assistant and webisode writer for the show."

But perhaps it was beginner's luck. "I thought I was safe. I thought that these achievements, along with the many academic awards I had won over the years, would launch my career, but I was dead wrong. Once my study permit expired, I was forced to leave the United States," she told The Gleaner.




Despite the accolades, Porter-Christie did not qualify for the coveted artist visa, required to work in the film industry. "Desperate, I bounced back and forth between Toronto and Jamaica, writing and directing short films with the hope of building a portfolio impressive enough to be let back in," she explained.

"It was a bleak time in my life. Grad school had completely drained my family's resources. Unable to pay rent for months at a time, I crashed on couches and relied on the kindness of friends. I sold my car and waited tables. I became depressed - ashamed that loved ones had put themselves in debt to help me chase some silly dream ...

"But throughout those hard times, my mother stubbornly maintained her faith in me, and it gave me the strength I needed to keep going. Until finally ... God came through," Porter-Christie shared.

Volleying between Toronto and Jamaica paid off. The young writer's short films were screened at film festivals across North America, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean. She was then hired as a writer on the Emmy Award-winning Canadian drama Orphan Black and the Canadian detective series Frankie Drake Mysteries.

"Finally, I received my artist visa and was able to move to Los Angeles to take up my current gig as a writer and executive story editor on the fantasy series Shadowhunters," she said.