What does it take to make a man? David Makes Man, OWN’s powerful new coming-of-age drama from Academy Award-winning Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney, answers this question through the life of 14-year-old David.
At a Blackhouse and OWN private event at Sundance, OWN premiered the trailer for this show, which will air in July 2019, following child prodigy David (newcomer Akili McDowell) growing up in Miami projects. Dealing with childhood trauma birthed from poverty and a mom who is recovering from drug addiction (Alana Arenas), David finds hope in the promise of higher education, thanks to his teacher (Phylicia Rashad). But the dangers of street life are ever-present.
“There’s a reason shows flow like water and don’t stick to the ribs,” McCraney said at the Sundance “Clips and Conversation” panel with the cast, showrunner Dee Harris-Lawrence and executive producer Michael B. Jordan. David Makes Man, however, “is your grandma’s shrimp and grits,” he said, emphasizing the complexity of the characters and the plot of the show he based on his childhood.
McCraney bubbled over with passion as he spoke about how personal the show is to him as a reflection of his experiences. Jordan shared and McCraney confirmed that while pitching the show to various networks, McCraney cried in each meeting. Winfrey reportedly said that it was the best pitch she’d ever heard. The clips previewed help to explain why.
At the same time that David’s mom is recovering from addiction, she’s also providing warmth and emotional support for her two children, sparking their imaginations, in the Black tradition of making something out of nothing.
Though David is a sweet and thoughtful boy who looks after his little brother and strives to be dependable for his mom, he must also put on a hardened exterior to survive the dangers of the world around him. In an incredibly moving clip previewed at Sundance, while working the lookout post for neighborhood drug dealers, David uses the imagination his mom has encouraged to reconcile who his enslaved ancestors were with who he is and who he could be.
Watching the shackled feet of David’s ancestor running through the same fields he runs through everyday, it’s evident why McCraney calls this TV series a “10-hour film”; through cinematic storytelling, David Makes Man continues Moonlight‘s work of bringing arthouse to the hood. It’s why Rashad called the series a “banquet,” not a meal.
“This is the show we wanted to make,” McCraney said. “This is life as seen through our eyes, which means we see the god in you,” he said of the validation Black people will get from watching David Makes Man.
Arenas echoed this observation, noting that what makes the MacArthur Fellow and playwright’s work so special is his ability to articulate the Black experience in ways we understand but may not have been able to express with McCraney’s ease.
“[In this series], we offer a view of humanity,” Rashad agreed, speaking to the power of Black representation on screen. “The characters in this show, they’re not all like me…but, I [still] see myself in all of them because that’s what it means to be human,” she said.
David Makes Man premieres on OWN in July 2019.