Andy Allo and Zainab Johnson are bringing Black girl magic to the digital universe in their starring roles in Prime Video’s latest sleeper hit. The actresses star in Upload, a sci-fi comedy-drama from the brains behind classic television comedies like The Office and Parks and Recreation.
Johnson, a comedian, and Allo, a singer-songwriter, command each scene they lead in this multicultural futuristic comedy. Set in a not-too-distant future that finds people with the ability to upload their consciousness into a digital afterlife, Upload follows the character of Nathan, a man who dies and joins the faux-heaven at a premature age. He can still tap into the goings-on of the living world and communicate with friends and family he left behind while navigating the wonders his digital afterlife has to offer – provided those on earth can keep his account properly paid up.
Johnson and Allo portray Aleesha and Nora respectively, customer service reps known in this digital space as “Angels,” that build avatars, manage experiences, and get users accustomed to their new (after)life. Living in both the real world and this digital space leaves each woman with a lot to navigate personally, professionally, and in Nora’s case specifically, romantically.
Though the technology to directly upload your consciousness into a digital world doesn’t yet exist (that we know of), the actresses note how eerily close the show’s reality is to our own.
“Look, watch our show. You’ll see the future,” Johnson said of the hit Prime Video series. “We first shot our pilot at the end of 2018 – this whole show about the Metaverse essentially. And now look. We’re in 2022 and everything is meta, you know? So I just feel like, if for no other reason, watch our show so you know what’s happening three years from now,” she laughed.
“I mean, we’re all on a group text together and at least once a month, we’re texting each other about something that’s happening now that our show predicted,” Allo added.
The predictive, futuristic-yet-grounded nature of the show leaves plenty of room to examine societal and interpersonal issues against the absurdist humor and sci-fi based-setting.
“What I love about our show is it tackles really big things, but in a relatable way and you can kind of laugh about it,” Allo said. “We always have socioeconomic and political undertones and especially this season, we’re really going for voter tampering and disenfranchising the poor, but it’s done in such a way that it makes you think. It starts a conversation, but you can laugh about it.”
“Whatever happens in the future, however we advance technology, whoever you vote for, it always comes down to interpersonal relationships, right?” Johnson added. “In season two, we really explore the relationships between all the characters. And I really love that about the show.”
And though race is not at the center of the show, it’s definitely not a factor that is pushed aside or ignored in this alternate reality. As the two Black women main castmembers, both Johnson and Allo appreciate having the opportunity to bring authenticity to their roles and examine the unique issues we face at the intersection of Blackness and womanhood, amid the show’s overall lightheartedness.
“I think this is totally a Black woman’s thing, but my character gets to say it like it is. I just think that’s something that we’ve done historically was like speak the truth. In whatever manner we speak that truth,” Johnson said, speaking to the authenticity of her character Alicia. “That was a compliment that I received a lot during season one. A lot of Black women came to me and were like, ‘Aleesha is so Black, but it’s not heavy. It’s so wonderful to see on TV this Black character that’s the girl I know.'”
“I don’t think we ever ignore anything. I think we always address real life in this show, which is really cool. And everyone has a very strong point of view and so it’s not like we’re living in this alternate reality where nothing from the real world is there,” Allo said. “And I think it’s interesting because Nora, in season two, you find her in the Lud camp – which is anti-tech, they live in the woods – and there’s all those dynamics in that space too. I won’t say much more because it kind of gives it away, but it touches on that a bit of the patriarchy.”
With tech, morality, capitalism, end-of-life, and romance all converging at the intersection of science fiction and comedy, it’s easy to assume you’ll get lost in the mix while watching. But Both Allo and Johnson insist that while not only is the show funny and relatable, there is something for everyone hidden in the hilarity and for Black women in particular.
“I think you will see yourself in this show,” Allo said. “It might not look like everything else, but I think that’s what makes it even more special.”