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What You Need To Know About The Guy Who Plays Rayshawn In #FreeRayshawn

This content was paid for by Quibi and created by Looper.

Quibi isn't all cozy mystery parodies and sleek thrillers. With #FreeRayshawn, the streamer takes a tense look at policing, race relations, and the power of social media. Not only does the series make great use of Quibi's smartphone-only platform, but it also provides a terrific showcase for the talents of its charismatic star, Stephan James.

Whether or not you recognize James right off the bat, you're likely already familiar with his work. The Canadian actor has been making waves in Hollywood over the last few years thanks to co-starring roles in movies like If Beale Street Could Talk and 21 Bridges. One of the producers of the latter, Joe Russo (yes, of the Russo Brothers), even said of James, "I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt he will be one of the biggest stars of the next five years" (via Variety).

You heard it straight from the Russo's mouth: it's time to get better acquainted with Stephan James. Here's what you need to know about the career and life of the star of #FreeRayshawn.

Stephan James completed a "Canadian right of passage"

James grew up in Toronto and began his acting career at a young age. His earliest roles were on Canadian TV shows such as My Babysitter's a Vampire and How to Be Indie. Things really kicked off for him when he landed a recurring part on perennial teen soap opera Degrassi: The Next Generation.

In the grand scheme of the longrunning show, James' eight episodes playing Julian Williams is a minor moment in the history of the franchise. However, for James, walking the halls of Degrassi Community School is so much more than just an acting gig. He told Variety, "You want to do Degrassi at least once... it was one of those shows that I was genuinely a fan of when I was a kid. I say this a lot, it's like a Canadian right of passage for young actors growing up in Toronto."

It's a legacy he shares with the likes of music sensation Drake and TV superstar Nina Dobrev, which is some very talented company to be in.

An Oscar-nominated director tracked James down to give him the role of a lifetime

It wasn't long after getting some roles in the Canadian film and TV industry that Hollywood came knocking. In this case, it was acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, who hired James to play US civil rights hero and Congressman John Lewis for the movie Selma. Playing one of the most celebrated figures of the civil rights movement would be a huge moment in any actor's career. But according to DuVernay, before she could offer James the life-changing role, she had to chase him down.

The director told Variety that she sought out James after Selma star David Oyelowo showed her a movie trailer the young actor appeared in: "He had no idea who he was either, and Stephan had about two lines in this clip, and it was incredible work."

However, the actor wasn't easy to find, as James didn't have an agent at the time. DuVernay said of the search, "It was messy... I thought I might have to fly to the streets of Toronto and find him myself, but his tape finally came in. He was worth the wait." She went on to say, "I feel like he's the best of his generation, because he can be so many things. Fiery, vulnerable, sexy, confident, humble — I've seen him do it all."

James has already made a splash on the awards circuit

For his role as John Lewis in Selma, James was nominated for a Black Reel Award for Outstanding Breakthrough Performance. However, that wasn't his first time getting recognized for his work. For his first feature film, 2012's Jamaican immigrant drama Home Again, James was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award (a.k.a. the Canadian Oscars) for Best Supporting Actor. He went on to win a Canadian Screen Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of famed Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens in the movie Race.

James has also received major awards attention outside of his home country. Race nabbed the actor an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. In 2018, he was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama for his role on Amazon Prime's military conspiracy drama, Homecoming. James dedicated his Globe nomination to the Toronto borough of Scarborough, where he grew up: "Scarborough, this is for you! This is really for you... I'm dedicating this whole moment to my hometown... I hope you're feeling the love and the energy... Keep pushing, and let's keep making exciting things and exciting art, and keep supporting each other."

Most recently, James was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series. What was the series? Why, none other than #FreeRayshawn. Whether it's in movies, on TV, or even an app on your phone, Stephan James is proving himself to be a major star on the rise, one performance at a time.