Nineteen-year-old Coco Gauff’s triumphant run winning her very first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open is, as many have noted, reminiscent of seventeen-year-old Serena Williams’ successful 1999 US Open one for her first Grand Slam win. As Gauff has consistently reminded us, she is here because of Serena, who is her idol. And she is not alone. For over two decades, Serena and sister Venus captivated people globally with their immense talent on the tennis court. However, as popular as they were, Hollywood didn’t rush to create Black women characters who played tennis. Representation of Black women tennis players didn’t become a reality until Nkechi Okoro Carroll stepped in, with the premiere of All American: Homecoming last February. And in this most recent season, she even had Gauff make a cameo.
A spinoff from The CW’s young adult hit series All American, All American: Homecoming is a HBCU-centered drama already greenlit for its third season. Here, Geffri Maya, a Clark Atlanta University alum, stars as Simone Hicks, an emerging college tennis player, attending Bringston University in Atlanta. But, as fans of All American know, Simone didn’t start with her current persona. Instead, she went through a lot since first showing up on season two of All American, now on tap for season six, including becoming pregnant, getting entangled with All American’s star quarterback Jordan Baker, giving up her child in an open adoption, and briefly marrying Jordan Baker. So no one questioned why Maya’s character needed a fresh start.
Deciding to move from Los Angeles to Atlanta to attend Bringston, where her maternal aunt Amara Patterson works, changed everything. Simone’s re-introduction to the All American family as a reawakened tennis player ushered in television’s first regular focus on a Black woman tennis player. Carroll conceived All American: Homecoming, where she also holds the role of co-showrunner, in response to her displeasure over how horribly Black women pro tennis players were being treated in real life.
“I was so frustrated seeing what Serena [Williams] had to go through, what Naomi [Osaka] had to go through, and what all of these amazing Black female tennis players have to go through in addition to being excellent on the court, and everything else that gets thrown at them that they don’t throw at our male tennis players,” Carroll explained in March prior to the WGA strike.
That doesn’t mean Simone’s life as a HBCU student and tennis player is void of drama, especially in matters of the heart. In the first season, she tried to maintain a long-distance relationship with Jordan while also denying her strong attraction to Bringston’s star baseball player Damon Sims (played by Peyton Alex Smith who has been seen in the TV shows The Quad, Legacies, and BMF) who turned down the pros for college. Even though she was now single, she and Damon still couldn’t establish a connection due to his involvement with Thea Mays, the star tennis player of Bringston and Simone’s frenemy. Not one to wait around, Simone settled into a situationship with Lando Johnson, Damon’s teammate and rival. And if that weren’t enough, her non-tennis friends/classmates also bring drama of their own.
With that drama, however, All American: Homecoming also highlights very important issues. Racial profiling of Black women was one they conquered in a big way in this most recent season. By mirroring the actual incident of racial profiling by law enforcement of Delaware State’s women’s lacrosse team in Georgia from the past year, the storyline involving Bringston’s tennis team shed light on the harsh reality that Black women, such as Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Breonna Taylor, and the most recent case of 21-year-old pregnant Ta’Kiya Young, can also become targets of police scrutiny. Gauff showing up as herself in the penultimate episode of the second season to support the Bringston tennis team’s protests of their treatment made that point even more poignant. It’s a moment Carroll cherishes.
“Obviously we’re a drama, we’re going to have the obstacles and all that stuff but, when push comes to shove, this is a sisterhood of Black female tennis players and it’s why we had Coco show up and stand there in defense of her fellow tennis sisters and the generation that’s coming up behind her,” said Carroll.
Clark Atlanta alum Maya embraces playing Simone and representing HBCUs, which, coincidentally, has a rich tennis history that even includes pioneering two-time Wimbledon champ Althea Gibson attending Florida A&M. Having Gauff, whom she believes is “so fearless and fierce at what she does,” on the show was a pleasure, but so is being a part of the show overall.
“It’s a privilege and an honor for us to be a part of something that celebrates them and say ‘look, we see you,’” she explained earlier in the year. “[Tennis] is a white male-dominated sport, but there are so many women, especially Black women, who are at the forefront, from their abilities to their representation just for their own communities. Once upon a time, they just weren’t in the forefront as much as they are now so it’s nice to have a conversation around Black athleticism.”
Gauff’s addition to the upcoming season of All American Homecoming carries even greater significance, especially following her recent triumph at the U.S. Open last Saturday. Competing on a global stage and winning is something that cannot be underscored. “I think people take for granted what it takes to be excellent in a sport like tennis,” said Carroll. “I just wanted to have a show that truly gave these women their flowers while they are alive to experience being given them.”
Both seasons of All American: Homecoming, including S2, Episode 14, ‘Stand Up for Something,’ in which Coco Gauff appears, can be streamed on Netflix.