Black pain and suffering is often used as a plot point in television shows and feature films. But it typically caters to the White male gaze and functions to justify our existence both in the industry and in society.
“David Makes Man” breaks that mode. Created by Tarrell Alvin McCraney, the screenwriter behind Oscar-winning film “Moonlight,” each episode feels like a slice of a feature film. Packed with emotional performances from newcomers Akili McDowell, Alana Arenas and Nathaniel Logan McIntyre and visually stunning cinematography, “David Makes Man” makes it easy to be engrossed in the poetry of the characters’ stories—and to dive into the complexity of their lives.
A big part of what makes the one-hour drama compelling is its ability to capture the truth of trauma in the Black community and the ways it manifests in generational cycles. And it manages to bring it up in a holistic way, allowing the characters’ actions to affect the lives of those around them, while also showing a bird’s eye view of how poverty caused by systematic neglect effectively limits their choices.
We see a little boy grow up way too fast because of it. David (McDowell) is coerced into selling drugs to support his younger brother and mother, who loses her job for refusing her boss’ sexual advances. As higher ups are arrested, the drug organization breaks down and David is forced to step up because he doesn’t have the option to fail. David’s proximity to the drug game becomes a tempting situation for his mother, who is recovering from an addiction to painkillers. It also becomes a triggering situation for David, whose mental health deteriorates under the weight of witnessing the murder of his father figure, the head of the drug game in his neighborhood.
Yes, ”David Makes Man” provides plenty of hard moments. But we also get to see moments of joy and connection. Each episode reveals a piece of the characters’ backgrounds, giving viewers a grounding for understanding and compassion for people pushed into difficult situations. The show also addresses harm by making space for tender recognition of its effects and the false notion of being okay in its midst. Conversations about mental health rarely happen for Black people; this show’s deep dive into the subject opened a dialogue on social media for sharing experiences and conjuring healing remedies and resources to break the cycle. It created a community.
That’s actually what makes the show shine its brightest: community. The kinship shared by the characters is palpable; it’s clear that they have helped each other get this far. Where there wasn’t a support system, they created it. Just like real life.
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