David Makes Man Review

Series creator Tarell Alvin McCraney spoke to the audience about his show’s protagonist David during the Q&A at the premiere of OWN’s David Makes Man“I said to myself, ‘This is the job,'” he said. “Not to change him into somebody else, to take his gifts outside of the community. But to make the community greater by giving all that he’s got back to it.”

Like Moonlight before it, the drama series’ source material comes from McCraney’s own personal life, specifically the experience of being told he was gifted. For many black students, being deemed “gifted” comes the pressure and expectation that you will be separated from peers that look like you.  The warring concept of the community that made you who you are being a deterrent to your gifts is explored in the first episode – which makes for a promising and stylistically start to the series.

David Makes Man centers on David (Akili McDowell), a 13-year old Black boy who lives in South Florida. David attends Galvin Magnet Middle School, a school for the gifted. At home, he watches over his brother JG (Cayden Williams) while his mother Gloria (Alana Arenas) works hard to better the life of her whole family. David is also haunted by his close friend Sky (Isaiah Johnson), who shot and killed. Sky serves as a North Star of sorts for David, who struggles with the area’s drug dealing scene while striving to get into a gifted high school.

The writing immediately hooks you into the pilot episode. These characters feel lived-in, made all the more authentic by the actors bringing them to life. What especially makes them shine is their lack of remorse with their use of language. McCraney stressed that this series would not do the work for non-black viewers and explain nuanced cultural moments: “We ain’t gonna code-switch for you. We’re not gonna build any bridges for you to get in. We’re gonna show you what’s authentic and hope you remember the time when it happened to you.” This is apparent in how the characters interact and speak with each other – we are guests in their world and we’re just observers. In the words of McCraney, you’re welcome to “fellowship” with the people in this story, but their existence won’t be made small for your easy-to-digest comprehension.

Another unexpected and pleasant surprise in the pilot is how fantastical elements are used to drive the story forward. David has a habit of losing focus and daydreaming, resulting in scenes where waves of water gush on his ceiling. One standout scene follows an altercation between David and his classmate and friend Seren (Nathaniel McIntyre). The boys are sitting outside the principal’s office, keyed up and lacking the words to express themselves. Instead, cartoon words pop up from thin air, symbolizing the conversation they want to have. It makes for not only a special and fresh moment, but it also symbolizes the struggle boys (and let’s face it, men) have when it comes to communicating and expressing themselves in a healthy way. Whether this is a one-off stylistic choice from director Michael Francis Williams or a continuing theme for the remainder of the season, it brings a level of magic that’s engaging and personal.

David Makes Man’spilot offers a glimpse of great potential. So many themes are tackled in the first episode alone: colorism, poverty, abuse, addiction, LGBTQ lifestyles. On paper, juggling all of that is a tall order, but in practice, it flows better than expected. The biggest question that will be on viewers’ minds after seeing this will probably be: where is this going? But if episode one is a good barometer for the series in whole, the answer could be simple enough: somewhere great.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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