All American: Homecoming is a show that stands out from its young adult counterparts for many reasons. Of those many reasons, the most obvious one is that All American: Homecoming follows the lives of students at the fictional Historically Black College (HBCU) Bringston University. HBCUs offer a bubble for Black students to succeed without the constant pressure of racism.
Homecoming being set at a Historically Black University separates it from not only other young adult centered shows, but also other college shows. On screen, HBCU representation is limited, to say the least. A Different World is the best known representation of this uniquely Black experience, but since then there have been only a handful of movies and tv shows following HBCU students. I believe that the lack of representation keeps some Black youth from seeing going to an HBCU as an option they can pursue. In fact, Homecoming’s showrunner and creator Nkechi Okoro Carroll did not go to an HBCU herself. She has said that creating the show has been her way of getting the HBCU experience she didn’t have.
It may seem unimportant to non-Black people, but as someone who didn’t attend an HBCU myself, I also look back and wonder if the experience of the students on Homecoming was one I could have had myself. When I watch Homecoming, one word comes to mind: community. HBCUs are community-centered because Black people deeply value community. Off Colour attended the Warner Brothers panel and screening for Homecoming, where we watched the episode “Rock the Boat” which highlighted the importance of community in this show.
The episode stresses the importance of “family dinners”, a time when the characters share a meal and talk about their week. Family dinners could not be held for a while due to fear that it would make Amara Patterson (Kelly Jenrette), now Bringston University President, seem biased against other students. The episode showed me exactly why community is Homecoming’s biggest strength.
I knew that the on-screen community is incredibly important. However, after talking with the cast and crew, I learned that behind the screen there is also a tight-knit community who affirms and supports each other. These are some of the things we talked about.
Off Colour: Homecoming features a Black female lead. What is the show doing behind the scenes to accurately represent black women?
Marqui Jackson, Co-showrunner and Executive Producer: I mean, representation is key. My co-showrunner and creator of the show, Nkechi Okoro Carroll, is a Black woman. We have Black women on our staff. So just listening and especially when the stories are specific to Black women. Just listening to other perspectives that I couldn’t possibly have.
Off Colour: HBCU’s offer a chance to exist in a bubble for your identity is no longer reduced to being black. What does that mean as far as self discovery for the characters? What are the pros and what are the challenges?
Mitchell Edwards who portrays Cam Watkins: think stereotypically speaking; we see young black men go into sports or go into rap music. And while Cam kind of has parallels and both of those worlds, it’s also nice to see someone have to learn what other areas and other lanes they can be proud of. I think it’s important to demonstrate for young black men the other spaces we can hold. He’s having to go into the fraternity and find brotherhood and find a place within a community and then outside of that harvest more of an independent spot. And I think it’s important for him to learn what else he has to bring what else he can offer, outside of just sports.
Kelly Jenrette who portrays Amara Patterson: I attended Xavier University in New Orleans for two years, and I feel like any university in New Orleans is its own experience, because New Orleans is its own world. I feel like there was so much that I was able to learn about myself. Being influenced by the culture that is New Orleans, the food, the community, that comes as a result of sitting around and breaking bread with one another. Which is something that I love about Homecoming and the family dinners. I think that, the experiences that I had, that taught me about community, that taught me how important it is to just sit and laugh with your girlfriends is something that really helped to inform me, in playing this role of Amara.
Off Colour: Kelly, how does the absence of the family dinners make you feel?
Kelly Jenrette: Ugh! I hated it! It’s like presenting someone with a gift that they have always wanted. To be given this gift of community, only to have it snatched away, because she got promoted. Which is an amazing thing, but at what cost? She has this incredible gift of being President of a University. But then the very thing that she loves, she loves the students, you know? That being taken away from her.
So it was devastating you know, because even as an actor, we still all got together, and we shot those scenes. And we would laugh, we would be silly, and we would have an amazing time. The family dinners were taken away on the show, but our time together as a cast was also taken away. So it was like, you cut me both ways in this is made up world and in real life!
Off Colour: Being a Black person portraying a uniquely Black experience on a show that’s written by a Black person, with a Black woman showrunner, and a mostly Black crew. How’s that different from your other experiences where you haven’t had all of that community around you?
Sylvester Powell who portrays Jesse “J.R.” Raymond Jr.: I feel spoiled right now. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t. I feel very spoiled to be able to look around and see people that look like me. And that’s not common in certain tv shows and movies that I’ve done in the past. So I’m just cherishing the moment right now. Cause I don’t know what’s next, I don’t know what film I’m doing next. So while I’m here, I’m enjoying looking around and seeing this right here you feel me? It’s been a blessing.
Mitchell Edwards: I think diversity is important. It’s not about just being all black, or all white, or all Asian. It’s important for us all to have the opportunity to create and collaborate. So for me, I still love being a part of diverse sets first and foremost, but being on all black set, or predominantly black set is important because it’s a pioneer in some ways, right? One of the first series on this network to be all Black. It’s just important to blaze the trail for other productions to have the same circumstances. I think it’s important to have productions like ours, to demonstrate that we can still succeed on our own.
Camille Hyde who portrays Thea Mays: It’s mostly just inspiring to have someone that close to you doing something so spectacular. And being able to be in her energy and understand what it takes. And she’s (Nkechi Okoro Carroll) such a hard worker. She’s the hardest worker I know. She’s always working and we just do our best to try to learn from her whenever we do get to see her.
Kelly Jenrette: You know, I thank God for placing me in this world with a Black female showrunner. There was a personal situation that I had gone through in my life. And because I had a black female showrunner what she said was, tell me what you need. Not, can you figure that out? Can you handle that on your own? It was, what do you need?
And I need you, to tell me what you need. And I’m not just saying that, I mean it. That Black mama of if you don’t tell me what you need, and I found out that you needed something, it’s gonna be a problem. Like, I get it. Yes, this show is important. It’s not gonna be more important than you. Because if you are not well, we have very nothing. So, that is an amazing thing that we are able to be in the care and comfort of a Black woman. It’s a blessing. I thank God for it.
Off Colour: Geffri, what was it like for you to be able to work with a Black woman showrunner, following in the footsteps of other Black women duos such as Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes
Geffri Maya who portrays Simone Hicks: I mean, naturally, instinctually, it just felt like home. Whether it’s African American, or Asian, or what have you, I think that people of color deserve to be safe in such big spaces like Hollywood in the industry. It’s nice to just go into a room and be able to breathe. Not having to explain why you did what you did. Why you said what you said. Why your hair is a certain why. Black people deserve to just be, and I say that all the time cause I mean it. I really do mean it.
And I feel like being able to have a black woman champion stories, champion talent, and champion dreams and visions. It’s an honor, it’s an honor to do that. And I’m really excited for it to just continue. Like conversations like this where we have to always talk about it as a highlight in an interview versus just a norm. But, I am very grateful, and I always sing praises to N.K. (Nkechi Okoro Carroll) for just believing in the vision that she had for her show. But, I also thank her for believing in me. I’m grateful for my girl.
Off Colour: Do you have any advice to any other black women who are looking for this kind of experience? Who want to work with other black people and not to settle in that regard?
Kelly Jenrette: You know, I wish I could just say like, hey you be it! But there’s a process to everything. And I will say that you can be that resource for other people, wherever you find yourself. Be that resource for people, even if you don’t have that black female showrunner. Allow yourself to be the person that shows up for other people. And then, ask them what they want. It’s a very scary thing to do. But you teach people how to treat you by what you say, and what you don’t say. So say what it is that you need.
Off Colour: With more shows about college/ young adult life emerging (Sex Lives, Good Trouble, Grownish) what are the choices that have been made behind to scenes to set Homecoming apart? Especially as a show that focuses on HBCU students.
Geffri Maya: I love when I meet people who are able to sit here and say, my daughter watches your show. And she really values your character, and the hair. Ryan Burrell, is our department head for hair. To be in a room with him and a woman will come up to us and say, my daughter’s tries to emulate every hairstyle that you’ve done, that’s an honor. So, to know things like that, like hair is making an impact.
Or that black girls and black boys can see themselves going to an HBCU now because they watch the show. It’s bigger than just being famous. Bigger than just being cool, it’s bigger than just being popular. It’s like no, we are impacting people. We are impacting families, we are changing the narratives of how black people and young black adults should be viewed, and how they view themselves. And it’s exciting.
Marqui Jackson: I think for us, just by nature of us being an HBCU. That sets us apart from other kind of college shows. It’s just being intentional about really showcasing the HBCU experience. Every episode, how can we do this in a way that is uniquely specific to our show. So not taking the easy way out, and just doing a regular story about mental health, or midterms or things like that. Like what is the HBCU spin on that kind of relatable story? So that’s just something that every episode, every writers room session, we do.
Hans Charles, Director of Photography: For me, it’s a show grounded in a very specific experience that many black people in America who have a college degree, that’s their experience. So in some ways, it’s more relatable to our overall American culture than some of the other shows. I went to Morehouse undergrad and went to Howard grad and also taught for a certain amount of time, so I can speak to all the things that happen from a student to a professor at a HBCU. I try to fuse as much of my experience into some of the small details. Somebody that is in production design may say, oh, that’s not quite right. And then I can just speak to what would have happened if I was there.
Off Colour: Homecoming shows us black athletes playing white dominated sports while existing in historically black spaces. What were some behind the scenes challenges of depicting the nuances of this unique experience on such a wide mainstream platform?
Marqui Jackson: I think it wasn’t necessarily challenges in depicting them. It was really more so giving voice to what you just said. That a lot of kids of color, don’t play tennis, they don’t play baseball, because they’re expensive. We actually did an episode last year, where Damon and Santiago had the opportunity to have this really great mentorship moment with young boys who looked like them who didn’t know that guys of color could play baseball. So it’s really just saying that hey, our characters do this. There are people in the real world that do this, you can do it too, despite the challenges that are there. So I think it’s just giving voice to those challenges and giving the sense that they can be overcome.
Sylvester Powell: I’ll start with the challenges first, getting it right, that was major. As far as doing my research, watching the game more, learning each position more, spending time with the coach. Spending a lot of time practicing. Spending a lot of time just learning and developing the craft. And really, the aspect of just want to get it right. I never wanted nobody to watch it and be like ‘ah we don’t swing like that, we don’t do that. I really wanted to get it right and represent us the way we’re supposed to be represented. Cause I used to play baseball growing up. So little kids growing up, I want to be able to show them representation on tv.
Cam’ron Moore, Writer and Co-producer: We wanted to, for what you said about them being predominantly white sports, baseball was a sport that actually used to have a lot more black players. And the population of black players has dwindled over the years. So that was something that we discussed. Those are concepts that we wanted to put into the show. Why are there less black leaders one, in the MLB but also just in general? Why are black kids being priced out of baseball? So when it comes to the nuances of tennis, and baseball, we really want to dig from our own experiences, and pull up experiences of people that we talked to or read about. Like, why are people not in this sport? And if they are, what is their experience? So I think that kind of helped us shape a perspective for the show.
Camille Hyde: I think a lot of it is the pressure, not just pressure to be the best and to be really good at what you do. But it’s also, you have to have the added pressure and how you carry yourself, your etiquette. Because you don’t want to push any negative stereotypes about your subgroup of people. So I think that’s kind of something that’s in your mind like, okay, like, I lost this point, but I’m not gonna freak out, i’m not gonna throw my racket, I’m not gonna scream. Because I have to keep composure and represent well.
Geffri Maya: I have so much respect for athletes, especially black athletes. Because of what they have to endure, they have to be the strongest, they have to be the fastest, they have to be the best. As black people, we’re always going to be in that pool. So to be seen in a sport that requires so much of you physically. I can only imagine the mental, I can only imagine the spiritual. At the end of the day, all I personally care about, and I can speak for my entire cast and crew, all we care about is representation.
From again, being a black athlete, but also representing the sport and respecting the sport and what it takes and the dedication, and the time and energy and the love and the sacrifices that athletes make. The beautiful thing about this series is that we have, actual athletes who support the show, who watched the show, who also come on and be a part of our shows. It’s dope to have Reggie Bush, come on he’s one of the greatest athletes in football. To have him say that he watches our show and champion what we do, that’s an honor. To have that respect, and that stamp, it’s amazing.
Off Colour: Cam’ron, you wrote both All American and Homecoming. It’s very interesting to how the main character in All American goes from Crenshaw to Beverly hills versus Homecoming g where we follow the character from Beverly Hills to an HBCU. Can you talk about that?
Cam’ron Moore: It actually hits close to home for me. Because I’m from the Bay Area and I went to school in North Carolina at North Carolina A&T. So going from the Bay Area to North Carolina was a complete culture shock, in the best way. But also something like, that was not what I expected. But I love that for my experience, because it was such a different experience from what I had growing up that it informed my writing so much. It helped me grow as a person, and as an adult. Getting to be around a lot of people from so many different places, and so many different regions. But also growing up in a culture around people that didn’t grow up, like me. Different values, a lot of different perspectives. It humbled me a lot.
Off Colour: For Black writers who also want to write about their experiences with a Black cast and crew, what’s some advice that you have, in order to get it at this big of a scale, because that’s kind of rare, honestly.
Cam’ron Moore: I say, know your craft. It’s very important to do a deep dive into whatever it is you want to do. A lot of times people are like, I don’t feel like I’m ready. If you don’t feel like you’re ready, I hate to break it to you, but you’ll never feel ready. One moment, you’ll look up and you’re there and you’re like, okay, everybody’s asking me questions and looking at me for what the answer is. So I say, know yourself, so you can trust your instincts, then know your craft and study your craft.
Study people before you so that when you do have to make those decisions and go based on your instinct, you trust your decision, and can stand on it. Not in a way that is self-centered or anything like that, but in a way that you are able to move your vision or the vision of whatever project along because you are confident. So that’s what I would say to any Black creative that wants to have a project or execute a project on a large scale.
Off Colour: My last question: you brought a lot of light to HBCUs and the importance of community. What are other stories that you think in the future you might want to tell?
Cam’ron Moore: I always look to tell stories about African Americans that we may not necessarily get to see whether it’s an experience that I directly had, something adjacent to me, or something that I just find interesting. I’d love to dive into stories that are not the norm, and in no particular genre. So I say stay tuned.