Think back for a sec. Can you make a list of stories – let alone films or primetime dramas – that you grew up reading, or watching, that featured a Black boy as the focal point? Not to worry, you’re not alone.
During a roundtable discussion about OWN’s new series, David Makes Man, executive producer, Oprah Winfrey, is stumped, too.
“The first one that comes to mind is Manchild in the Promised Land,” says the media mogul of the classic novel, published in 1965. When she looks over at the show’s Academy Award-winning creator, writer, and executive producer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, he takes a beat before responding. “The only one I can think of is Cornbread, Earl and Me,” he says of the 1975 film, “and then you jump to Boyz n the Hood [from 1991]. There’s a big gap in-between.”
Well, this week, they introduced us to David Young.
At 14, David – portrayed, with such heart, by Akili McDowell – is becoming a master role-player. The responsible son of an overworked mom and protector of a younger brother who’s enamored by the streets, David is as well a student who code-switches during his trek to-and-from the magnet school he attends across town. But no matter what’s going on around him, David is guided by his dream for a broader life.
During a visit to the Orlando set last fall, McDowell, 16, described his character best. “David is a strong boy who’s going through a lot at home,” says the young actor. “He’s a prodigy and he works hard, but he also has to put on this front, this mask, just to get through the day. Even though he sometimes feels that he’s not doing enough, which can be frustrating, he’s committed to making it to a better place.”
Rounding out the cast are up-and-comer Nathaniel Logan McIntyre, and Alana Arenas, who plays David’s mother, Gloria, as well as multi-talented Tony winners and Emmy nominees, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Phylicia Rashad. Additionally, Michael B. Jordan serves as an executive producer.
Rashad portrays David’s dedicated teacher, Dr. Woods-Trap, which is a character that resonates with the veteran actress. “[Along with] my aunts and uncles who were educators, I had teachers like her, who insisted that we excel because they knew we could…and they knew where we lived,” she offers, with a laugh.
So, what does McCraney hope viewers take away from the show’s 10-episode first season? “I want the audience to [experience] it, fully,” says McCraney, who, along with his Oscar win for co-writing Moonlight, earned a Tony nod for penning the stageplay (and his Broadway debut), Choir Boy. “I’ve heard people say that they stopped what they were doing to literally sit with these characters and there’s a reason for that. The show is built that way…so you can feel [this story].”
Winfrey chimes in. “I think David Makes Man will offer the rest of the world an opportunity to see inside a world that we rarely get to see,” she says. ”I believe that Tarell has created a series that validates the Black boy.”