It seems not everyone was psyched about Jimmy Brooks’ wheelchair storyline on “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” which gave Drake his breakout TV role — namely, Drake himself.
In an oral history for the series published by The A.V. Club on Thursday, former “Degrassi” writer James Hurst recalled that the rapper — whose real name is Aubrey Graham — worried the wheelchair made him look “soft” and even threatened legal action against the show.
“There was a letter from a law firm in Toronto, and it was from Aubrey,” Hurst said. “It was an odd letter that said, ‘Aubrey Graham will not return to Degrassi season six as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury is healed, and he’s out of the wheelchair.’ I said, ‘Get him down here.’ He came in and was like, ‘What letter? I don’t know about that.'”
Hurst recalled that when he asked Drake how he felt about the wheelchair, he replied, “‘All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.’ And I said, ‘Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get? You got shot, and you’re in a wheelchair.'”
Jimmy Brooks, if you don’t remember or if you never got sucked into the addicting Canadian teen drama series, became wheelchair-bound after a school shooting that left him paralyzed in Season 4. According to Hurst, Drake ultimately had a change of heart about Jimmy’s situation and remained with the show until Season 8 — though the character did start using crutches after undergoing stem cell surgery in Season 7.
“He was so nice and apologetic about everything,” Hurst said. “He instantly backed down. I was very passionate about it, and I said, ‘Aubrey, there’s some kid somewhere in a wheelchair, who’s completely ignored, who’s never on television, never gets represented.’ I need you to represent this person. You’re the coolest kid on the show, and you can say there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair.”
While Drake did not participate in the A.V. Club’s oral history, one of his costars, Lauren Collins, who played Paige Michalchuk, shed some more light on how the rapper felt about his character’s situation. She recalled how “hard” it was for Drake to maneuver the wheelchair, and even remembered him “toppling the chair over” a few times.
She added, “I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I think [Drake] probably struggled with the idea that he was one of two Black characters on the show, and that he was the one who was winding up shot and in a wheelchair, which obviously is part of a much larger conversation.”