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The topic of representation is one that, unfortunately, continues to be the focus of many conversations around people of color in film and television. Diversity initiatives have certainly broadened the spectrum regarding the types of stories being told and the actors and actresses hired to tell them, but when it comes to the ways in which African American males are portrayed on screen, actor Deji LaRay says, “We see a lot of imagery on television when it comes to Black men and it’s foreign to us.”

That lack of relatability led LaRay to put his talents to work behind the screen as well, creating and executive producing the new series Johnson which premiered on Bounce TV this past Sunday. The show follows four Black male friends who, although on different life paths, are bonded by a shared desire to be the best men they can be.

“There hasn’t been a show like this where you have four Black men who were unfiltered, unapologetic, who were vulnerable, who spoke their truth, who confronted life’s issues head-on, depended on their brothers, and have great intentions,” LaRay tells ESSENCE. “Obviously, they’re very flawed but they’re striving for greatness. You just don’t see that on television.”

Thomas Q. Jones, who also stars in the series relates. Having acted in other TV dramas such as Being Mary Jane and P-Valley, he says, “I’ve only seen a part of me [in other characters]. This show gives people an opportunity to see me in my entirety.”

Omar, Jarvis, Greg, and Keith are the four main characters in the show. “We all have the same last name Johnson; that’s symbolic of us all having the same struggle as Black men navigating in America,” explains LaRay who portrays Greg Johnson. “Once you pull back those layers, we are vastly different. What we wanted to do with this show, we wanted to tackle controversial topics but we also wanted to tackle some stereotypes.”

Bringing the show to life was difficult at first, LaRay admits. As he talked with Jones about his experience shopping the script he’d written, the former professional football player offered to put up his own money to shoot a pilot episode and produce the series along with LaRay.

“That was the start of us really getting more engagement because when people see the brotherhood, when people they see the comradery and the characters come to life, then it’s undeniable,” LaRay says.

As for Jones’ desire to do more than act, and be a part of controlling the narrative surrounding Black men, he says, “This is an opportunity for us to lead the charge and put Black men in media where they should be. That way you can encourage other Black men and enlighten Black women.”

Check out our full interview with Deji LaRay and Thomas Q. Jones in the video above. Watch Johnson on Bounce TV.

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