Premiering August 14th on OWN is the new coming-of-age story called David Makes Man, about a boy battling the dichotomy of excelling in private school education and facing the struggles street life.
Earlier this year at SXSW, BGN sat down with the cast and crew who appeared at the illustrious Austin film festival. Creator Tarell Alvin McCraney, TV showrunner Dee Harris-Lawrence, Akili McDowell (David), Alana Arenas (Gloria), Travis Coles (Miss Elijah), Phylicia Rashad (Dr. Woods-Trap) and director Michael Francis Williams. In an exclusive group interview with the team behind the new OWN series the cast and crew breakdown the creation of the project, and how this story will fit into contemporary day culture of narratives featuring young kids of color.
The world of David reminds me what we’ve seen in other films like The Hate U Give, where see this character live between two worlds, we don’t often see these kinds of stories told on screen, yet its a common reality for boys like David. Why did you want to bring this kind of story to the small screen?
Tarell: David can be so foreign to folks outside of the community. But it’s so every day for folks inside of the community. I mean, when we talked about this at Sundance, you know, there was a room full of Black and brown people. And you ask them, like, what was it like to be bust out of your neighborhood into other schools? And almost everybody, you know, either raised their hands or had an easy moment about it.
I remember the first time a schoolmate from our high school, New World School, the arts drove me home to Liberty City. And they were just terrified that I lived in that place. But that was like home for me. So there are a lot of questions I’m still working out. And that doesn’t sort of fit in an hour and a half, two-hour montage. I think you sort of walk away and have one conversation around the film, or can have many conversations about that bill with folks. But for us, we wanted to really keep engaging and keep turning things on its head in terms of how you talk about these issues. The other thing is, I don’t think we could create this, I don’t think we could create this conversation without community. And it’s hard to show community in one place where you needed to see many portions of the community to understand the full diet, the whole dialectic that was happening.
What kind of questions to conversations do you hope to raise each week?
Tarell: There are certain kinds of conversations, but there are conversations that I can’t see that come up, for example, I mean, the young people in our show, Kaylee and Nate and Lindsay and Tashi, they all would ask me questions about the script. And ask, you know, why is this you know, what, what’s important about this moment, and, and then relate and then say what they would do in that situation. And that would give me a whole other aspect of, of something I didn’t think about, you know, how technology plays such a huge part in their lives in a way that it didn’t in mind that impacts the way in which they see the world differently.
Ball culture, for example, I was so isolated in when I was a young person, but now it’s so prevalent because you can go online and watch balls on YouTube. Right? And, even live drag balls from actual lab houses, you know what I mean? Whereas when I was a kid, if you didn’t go to a ball, you didn’t know what a ball was. So access to that language, access to folks who you didn’t know existed, is different. And, again, I’m happy to have that to be a part of that conversation.
You play Dr. Woods-Trap (Phylicia Rashad) who you’ve described as someone who becomes a portal in David’s life, why do you think she’s compelled to want to help David and what kind of role can we expect to see from her character as the story evolves?
Phylicia: Come to this without expectation. But come to this with openness. And then you can really absorb everything that is. All right. So that goes into what you might expect to see this character evolve is don’t have an expectation.
I never had a white teacher until I went to college. And in college, I only had one. I was educated by Black people who were educated by Black people. And I grew up in a family of educators. So education and my ethnicity will not oppose it. And that’s separate. This is a part of being an African-American person is being well educated because we had to know everything, right? Okay, let me just start right there. Dr. Woods-Trap would be educated the way I would have been educated, she comes from that community, she comes from that route. And to bring that to the present generation, that is being educated another way with some other subtle message beneath their gifted program does not escape her. And she has to have total respect for each student and commitment to their education, even as she sees this undergirding which he will lead him through. Because she sees his light. She recognizes it. And she’s determined that he shall fulfill it. Because it’s there.
David is a pretty complicated character, one moment he’s close with his best friend and in the next moment he betrays him, why do you think David treats his friend this way?
Akili: His father figure like grand always told him he said only be one or two faces that you see. So I guess he does that to go off his game. Because he always tries to get ahead in any way you can to survive and get out of the situation.
I’d like each of you to answer this, what scenes resonated with you the most while filming and why?
Michael: I mean, for me, it was the pilot. And it’s a non-verbal scene. So the intent of it is very layered. It’s very deep. I mean, we had a conversation about family before doing the scene. And then he goes off to a place and gets to where he needs to, to deliver the performance that he does. And there was a moment before we started turning over where I looked around the camera sat in his mother and two rails that next day, and it felt like a prayer, the two of them just silently, not talking. But there was a conversation going on between them. And well, when you see the pilot, you see what he did that, to me that was really special.
Travis: There is a scene in the pilot, where the character says that there are only, “you see two faces”, a mess. And that really resonated with me when I read this script, because I also grew up in Prince George’s County, and I was educated and surrounded by Black people. And then when I got to college, and after college, that’s when I really kind of discovered that I wasn’t Black in the sense that I was other and then I had to compete in that way. And I just it resonated with me because I feel like I was just like data, trying to get ahead in ways and doing whatever I have to do in order to be the best because I believe that there wasn’t enough room for everybody. And that is actually kind of hard to process when I think about it, too. And so that really was a breakthrough for me in the pilot.
Dee: I know it’s kind of like hard for me to say I think what is like the favorite because I think a lot of things resonated with me throughout the filming process of the entire 10 episodes. But by the young people and how a lot of them have not acted in a show like this before.
And when I tell you the way they bring it in a way they keep refreshing on them when somebody would come new onto the set, and see how these young people worked in and no moment in time and knew their lines. That is what I took away from the film endeavor what we had special and how they were and how they gel and the chemistry to everybody, I think was probably the most profound I found through all 10 episodes. So it’s hard for me to like pick one because I mean, there was somewhere, you know, but I will be giving stuff away.
Alana: I would say just living in the world of David Makes Man makes me feel generally at home. So there’s a lot of things that resonate with me. And I feel at home because I think it’s very interesting that as somebody who grew up in Miami, and I have some heritage that’s from here, and I’m here. I just think I have like a great scope and span of different Black experiences in my one family. And that can create a veil, a very familiar sense of like, recognitions like I know you, but I don’t necessarily understand you. Because you’re the only thing that I know.
So there is a breadth of experiences that can happen in the Black experience that I still want to know about, I want to learn about. So this sounds I don’t like saying a whole lot. But when hip-hop was a thing, it wasn’t my thing. Because I felt like that’s actually not my truth. I don’t really know what that is like, I have no idea what that is. But I do you know what it was to know that there are people in my family who maybe know, they are the son of a drug dealer, or maybe that what I’m saying is, everything is familiar, but I want to know more about it. We grow up with people that we love, and we don’t really know them. I remember growing up feeling like even my mother, my father, I was like, “tell me, tell me more about you”. I want to know, I just think that a lot of times in the Black experience, there are stories that get perpetuated, and they don’t go deep. You know, like, we all have a great sense to know and be known. And so I feel like, I’m with my family. I’m exploring things within my own life in my community, that is important to me on a spiritual level, I understand, but I don’t know the logistics of it. So it is just all of it sort of kind of resonates with me.
Travis: I will say too that, even reading the pilot, I remember that afterward, I felt like I was seeing in every aspect of every character. It just made me feel so connected in a way where I was like, I never read anything like this before, where I could relate to so many people. And there are other people who have this experience. And I just remember, like, I want to be a part of this. It’s just something that I want to be a part of because I believe that all the experiences that have committed themselves in a way that I don’t think I have ever seen on TV.
David Makes Man is executive produced by Michael B. Jordan and Oprah Winfrey. The series makes its debut on OWN August 14th at 10pm ET.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.