Creators that inspire: Meet Bilal Baig
This article, along with six other portraits of creators that inspire, was first published in the CMF 2022 Annual Report.
Sometimes a TV show arrives just when we need it most.
Sort Of is that show.
The CBC dramedy debuted last year without much fanfare, but by the end of its first season viewers had fallen for soulful lead character Sabi Mehboob (Bilal Baig), a non-binary millennial struggling to find their place in the world.
Working as a nanny to a family in crisis and as a bartender in a 2SLGBTQ+ bookstore/bar, Sabi juggles commitments to their employers, best friend 7ven (Amanda Cordner), cheating boyfriend Lewis (Gregory Ambrose Calderone), and a traditional Pakistani mother (Ellora Patnaik), all while trying to figure out what they want from life.
Bilal Baig made history as the first South Asian, queer Muslim actor to star in a Canadian prime-time series, but they never imagined Sort Of would be such a hit with both audiences and critics. The show earned a prestigious Peabody Award, three Canadian Screen Awards, and a GLAAD Media Award nomination for Outstanding New TV Series.
“I knew we were making something special, but whether or not it would resonate with lots of different kinds of people, and critics too, was not something I was anticipating,” says Baig. “It has been a heartwarming experience to receive all the love for this show. I’m honoured that people feel comfortable enough to share with me the impact of the show on their lives.”
Sort Of celebrates genderqueer and trans-positive identity without being preachy or sentimental or pedantic. That nuanced representation is what makes the show special and important, especially in a world where transphobia and homophobia are all too common.
“I think for these particular communities, ones that often become reduced to statistics because there aren’t nuanced enough conversations about these communities in the mainstream, it is essential that there are stories out there that highlight their humanity,” explains Baig. “Stories that embrace the complexity of the lived experience of being trans/non-binary. It can be healing for people who are looking to see themselves in this kind of work, or eye-opening for people who stumble upon it and weren’t necessarily sure what they were getting when they entered the world of Sort Of.”
Baig credits the Canada Media Fund for helping bring the show to the small screen.
“Sort Of couldn’t have been made without the support of the Canada Media Fund from development into production. This kind of support has allowed us to make the show we really want to make and I’m very grateful for that.”
The second season of Sort Of debuts later this fall, and Baig and co-showrunner Fab Filippo are calling it the ‘Season of Love.’
“We dive deeper into the emotional and familial lives of some of the characters as a way to further understand who these people are in the world,” says Baig. “What’s made them who they are, and how that affects their connection to giving and accepting love. And as ever, audiences can expect laughter and heartbreak side-by-side throughout our second season.”