For all of her otherworldly grace and wisdom, Oprah admits to one glaring blind spot.
“I think most of the stories I’ve read growing up were always about black girls,” she told The Root during an interview with selected press. “I’m always looking at coming-of-age black girl stories like [The Bluest Eye’s] Pecola Breedlove. [...] So sitting in the room with Tarell was the first time I thought, “Wow. You know, I really don’t know very much about black boys. And nor have I ever actually thought very much about black boys.”
And she’s not alone. In scouring for characters he could identify with as a youth, David Makes Man creator Tarell Alvin McCraney acknowledged the pickings were slim.
“What stories did I grow up looking at [...] that were centered around the black boy’s experience?” he asked himself out loud. “There were so few.”
Looking to fill that void in today’s market is David Makes Man, a soul-stirring, coming-of-age drama that serves as McCraney’s first foray into television after award-winning pursuits in theater (The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy) and film (Moonlight, High Flying Bird).
Akili McDowell stars as David, a 14-year-old prodigy who’s forced to navigate between the allure of higher education and the beck and call of the streets, all while attempting to protect his younger brother J.G. from the South Florida projects they call home and enduring the countless traumas that David can’t seem to elude. But while trauma is integral to David’s story, McCraney refuses to allow it to be defined as such.
“It’s interesting. I didn’t use the word trauma at the time. I use ‘turning points.’ These are moments of awareness,” he told The Root. “When you put your hand on the stove and the stove is hot, we know not to do that. You remember that lesson, right? You remember the moment. And you also remember the next time when you go to cook something, how to cook something really well...you know that though it is a moment that has pain to it, or may have some to it, you still also remember a lesson. And there can be joy and happiness made out of that same thing.
“So, one of the things that was really interesting or necessary for me in telling the story was talking about how, as children, we metabolize these moments, right?” McCraney continued. “Now now as adults, we sort of say, ‘Oh, you’re traumatized,’ but as a kid, you don’t put it in a traumatized book. You put it in the bucket of lessons learned.”
These lessons are what make David’s maturation both involuntary and tragic. With violence and poverty looming around every corner, his only sources of strength and salvation come from within.
“I’m looking for stories that say this is what life is and this is how it is. And this is how you get through it,” Oprah told The Root when asked why OWN is the perfect home for David Makes Man. “I thought that the series, in the way he pitched and presented it, would offer the rest of the world an opportunity to see inside a world that we rarely get to see. And certainly, I believe that what he and the team have [...] collaborated [on] to create is this series that validates the black boy.”
David Makes Man premieres Wednesday, Aug. 14 on OWN.