Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney was on hand at the TCA press tour to talk about his new drama David Makes Man. It’s a raw look at the life of David (Akili McDowell), a 14-year-old prodigy from the South Florida projects. Haunted by the death of his closest friend and relied on by his hardworking mother (Alana Arenas), he goes to a magnet school where he is surrounded by people who neither live nor look like him.
Loosely based on his own experience, McCraney said that the show will explore “the dexterity that you learn in one set of circumstances or one socialized environment and the total new morality you learn in another.”
He continued, “I would cross a border into a very white neighborhood and take the bus to a very white school.” There he said, “It was important for people to say that a person is ‘less than.’ The social cueing of that, it seems like it’s altruist, that it’s good, it’s sort of trying to help someone — when in truth it denigrates where they come from. That experience makes one want to be a shapeshifter. You’re constantly trying to find a new way of presenting yourself. I wanted to really bring that forward in the performance of David.”
In the series, David grapples with the choice between the streets that raised him or the higher education that might offer him a way out. On a deeper level, it explores childhood trauma and the power of imagination to survive.
“The impetus behind bringing so much of David thoughts and imagination forward is landscaping interiority,” McCraney explained, specifically pointing out “the interiority of a black young person.”
“Often we leave that out,” he said. “We talk about the hard realities, we talk about the circumstances, the societal pressures. We often don’t talk about what those young people could be imagining. For me, if I didn’t have the dexterity of my imagination, I wouldn’t have survived. … It was important to make a series where you can engage and bring up some of these questions that lie in the back of our mind and not the forefront.”
On choosing to center the story on a young boy, McCraney posed: “Isn’t that the place where we all invest? We want to know what the plan is for the future yet we do not invest in the very folks who will lead the way. For me, it about opening up the aperture to take a look and engage those young people
McCraney was joined onstage by showrunner and EP Dee Harris-Lawrence as well as stars McDowell, Arenas, Nathaniel Logan McIntyrem, and Travis Coles.
David Makes Man debuts August 14 on OWN.