Let Hollywood tell it, Miami culture can be summed up by three things: South Beach, salsa dancing, and drug cartels. Unfortunately, that representation of the southern Florida city that we often see on the big and small screen leaves out an important community that’s a huge part of its makeup: African Americans.
Last year, OWN offered a new take on the 305 with the introduction of David Makes Man. The coming-of-age tale created, written, and directed by Moonlight‘s Tarell Alvin McCraney, not only expands the narratives of Black boys seen on screen but brings authenticity to the experience of growing up in Miami thanks to McCraney’s own Liberty City roots as well as the casting of Carol City native Alana Arenas.
McCraney and Arenas developed a friendship pre-teens via their mutual interest in the arts, but when it came time to audition for the role of Gloria in the television drama, Arenas earned her part based on talent alone.
“I don’t feel comfortable leaning on my relationships; I don’t like to put my friends in that situation,” Arenas tells ESSENCE of auditioning for the series the old-fashioned way. “We have a mutual respect for each other as professionals so whenever we work together I think we have an unspoken agreement to respect each other as professionals.”
Arenas brings that same level of respect to her portrayal of Gloria, David’s mother who works hard to pay the bills and maintain sobriety while attempting to keep her young sons out of trouble. The character gives a new face to Black women battling addiction which is a source of pride for the actress who’s also a mom in real life. Her family also centers African-Americanness in a city in which the experiences of others across the diaspora tend to be more prominent.
“You do wish sometimes that there is more celebration for what African Americans in this country have had to endure in order for other people to have a space in this success,” says Arenas who has Black American and Cuban ancestry. “It’s a complicated relationship because nobody wants to diminish anybody else for their space. I think Black Americans just often find themselves in a space of wishing that people could celebrate their story and their process in this American narrative.”
Sadly, McCraney points out another unfortunate reality of the erasure of those experiences. “Sometimes I don’t even know that Miami knows this show is on the air and that bothers me,” he admits. “I would be lying if I said it doesn’t bother me.”
As a third-generation Miamian, part of McCraney’s mission with the series was to allow African Americans and members of the Afro-LatinX and Caribbean cultures an opportunity to see themselves. “Black people have been a part of Florida’s tapestry for almost 200-300 years,” he notes. “We’ve been here.”
Check out our full interview with McCraney and Arenas as they talk more about representation and what viewers can expect from season 2 of David Make Man in the video above. The series returns to OWN tonight at 9p ET/PT.