We’ve been faithful fans of the CW show “All-American” since season one and have enjoyed watching Geffri Maya’s character Simone Hicks, since she first appeared as a problem for Jordan Baker (Michael Evans Behling) and eventually became the love of his life, so we’ll be following Maya to Bringston University, the fictional HBCU set in Atlanta in the “All-American” spinoff that’s also the brainchild of the brilliant Black showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll.
The show, which was introduced last year during a crossover “All-American” episode, centers around the challenges Simone faces at her new school where she’s attempting to join the tennis team and immerse herself in the HBCU experience against her parents’ wishes. She’s also still trying to make it work long-distance with Jordan Baker, although they’ve agreed to stick with dating instead of being the married couple they envisioned toward the last season of “All-American.” Of course, baseball star and fellow student Damon Sims is also on campus looking like a savory snack serving up a side of temptation for Simone. She’s got real HBCU student problems looming in her future this first semester — financial concerns, animosity from tennis captain Thea and pressure to dress the part of a drippy young freshman. We’re excited for y’all to see what’s up.
Our Sr. Content Director Janeé Bolden was on hand to ask questions at a pre-premiere TCA panel for the new series, which included Nkechi Okoro Carroll and Geffri Maya as well as Peyton Alex Smith (who plays Damon Sims), Cory Hardrict (Coach Marcus Turner), Kelly Jenrette (Amara Patterson), Camille Hyde (Thea Mays), Sylvester Powell ( Jessie “JR” Raymond), Netta Walker (Keisha McCalla) and Mitchell Edwards (Cam Watkins) as panelists. The show centers around the tight knit circle quickly forged by Simone within her first weeks at Bringston which includes her aunt (played by Jenrette), Damon Sims and most of the characters represented on the panel. It also is abundantly clear that the familial aspect of this particular group extends beyond the show and nowhere was that more evident than when we asked Nkechi Okoro Carroll about her inspiration for the character Nathaniel, played by Rhoyle Ivy King, who wasn’t present for the TCA, but, as the other actors made abundantly clear, is a treasured member of the crew. King’s character, who is best friends with Keisha and quickly becomes close with Simone, also happens to be gender nonconforming. [Editor’s note: Nathaniel uses she/her/they pronouns, while King uses he/him/they]
“The inspiration for Nate was — it wasn’t one of those things where I was like, I’m gonna break ground…” Okoro Carroll told BOSSIP’s Sr. Content Director Janeé Bolden.”No, I was just reflecting my world. I was writing this scene for the fashion show in the backdoor pilot, and trying to think what would complement Keisha’s character and built out her world of friends and it was really sort of an organic thing where this character Nathaniel was created and she’s non-binary. I didn’t even think about it, there was eight lines and then Rhoyle Ivy King strutted into the audition. And all of a sudden I’m like, ‘Okay, wait!’ Because Nate needed to stick around and honestly that’s a testament to Rhoyle as an actor.”
Blaming her “attachment” issues, Okoro Carroll admitted she has a tendency to fall in love with actors and expand their roles so they can “stick around” and allow her to use their talents.
“Rhoyle came in and murdered the audition and all of a sudden Nate grew in my head and all the things that she could do and all the ways wecould make sure we’re representing the queer community at HBCUs and the real truth of what that experience is like, was really born out of an inspiration of what Rhoyle brought to the original role.”
Here’s where the real higher learning comes in. While Okoro Carroll acknowledged she needed to learn more to bring Nathaniel’s character to life, she was more than willing to do the work required.
“I am one of those people who firmly believes as writers it is our job to research and I do not believe that I have to be an astronaut in order to write Apollo 13,” Okoro Carroll told BOSSIP. ” I believe I have to put in the work and the hours and the research. It’s the same for this. I very much wanted to make sure I was giving a voice to a community that doesn’t often get voices, but I was doing it in a way where hopefully they feel represented and feel like I just wanna carve the path until all of us can have our voices out here.”
Netta Walker, who plays Keisha, confirmed she’s received the same support from Okoro Carroll and the rest of the cast and crew.
“As the show goes on, you also get further into Keisha’s queerness as well,” Walker told Bolden during the TCA panel. “It’s really exciting to be working with a showrunner who wants to include us so that 14-year-old me who didn’t understand that she was bi, could look at herself and be like, ‘Is that me? That’s me.’”
Walker revealed that she and King built an immediate bond soon after they began working together and that they’ve shared conversations about how overwhelmingly positive their experience on “All-American: Homecoming” has been.
“When we started the process, Rhoyle was only supposed to be there for a couple of days,” Walker recalled. “Rhoyle walked in and I was like, ‘Oh, who are you?’ Then we started kiki’ing and found out we’re both theater kids, had the same friends, and the whole conversation around queerness in Black culture in general… In the theater bubble we are so acclimated to people being so understanding and knowing that this is going to be on TV is scary, but having this group of people who who are so supportive and so willing to listen and so available to have conversations about what it means to be Black and queer, it’s just really exciting and it feels like I’m being hugged by it. I know Rhoyle feels very similarly. There are like conversations we have to have just to make sure we feel like we’re being heard and every single time we’re heard.”
Okoro Carroll confirmed that she never hesitates to reach out to King when it comes to writing Nathaniel’s experience.
“Sometimes I’ll call Rhoyle and I’ll be like, listen hon, this is what I wanna do…let me know if there’s something I missed – something that nine-year-old Rhoyle sitting at home watching the show would’ve loved to see on that screen to make him realize that this world is a place that loves him and is for him and if I missed that, please let me know.” Okoro Carroll told us. “You wanna talk about an amazing human being, but also very gracious and open with his communication about the storylines we’re telling and pushing me in certain areas where he’s like, ‘I think you can go deeper here and really sort of stick this landing.’ Nathaniel’s been one of my favorite, favorite characters to write on the show.”
Geffri Maya echoed that same ease in communication among the cast, admitting she’s made it a point to make sure she educates herself.
“Transparently speaking, I’m constantly talking with Netta and Rhoyle about respecting that community because I don’t identify with that, truthfully,” Maya told Bossip during the TCA Panel. “But just because I don’t identify doesn’t mean I can’t educate myself enough to respect, not just the people who I work with, but the people who I consider to be friends and family to me. We work 12-16 hour days sometimes and we see each other more than we see our own families and we come from different walks of life and just as I want to stand firm in Blackness as a Black woman in America, Rhoyle and anyone from that community deserves the same.”
Maya added that being in an environment where the openness to both teaching and learning has been exciting for her.
“There are moments where you sometimes don’t know, and everyone in this cast is so supportive of having the conversation,” Maya told BOSSIP. “Netta can tell you, I’ve been like, ‘Hey, Netta was this offensive what I said, how I worded my question?’ Cause I’m quick to be like, ‘Don’t offend me!’ But I would want the same. I don’t have to explain who I am to you, so I would never make anyone feel like they have to explain who they are to me. It’s all love at the end of the day. You are who you are and that’s what’s gonna make the show so different because we’re reflecting the world. I hope everyone sees that and feels that truly.”
The love that Geffri Maya speaks of was palpable in the TCA conversation around Nathaniel’s character as one actor after another chimed in to share their onset experience. Mitchell Edwards, who plays Cam Walker shared that Nathaniel’s character isn’t confined to just kicking it with Simone and Keisha.
“Nathaniel is not just one of the girls,” Edwards told BOSSIP. “Like he very much gets everybody together. I think that’s important because as a non-binary person he has a connection to both genders and he’s not just the hairstylist, he’s also the barber. He walks everybody through their struggles. You know what I mean? So I think that’s important too, to show that cisgender and non-binary people can coexist. Males, especially Black males, the stigma that’s associated with the community to be able to break that down. I feel very proud to play a character that’s willing to work out with Nathaniel and learn more about him and I think that again it’s a testament to the writers for putting that type of representation forward to encourage and empower the communities and the kids to be like, yeah, let’s embrace that community just as well.”
“You look at a great human being and you look at his heart and he’s very collaborative,” Cory Hardrict added of King. “It’s all about collaboration and love and his intentions are secure. We’re all on the same page, that’s what it’s about.”
“It’s like one big family, especially being on set,” Sylvester Powell agreed. “There have been multiple times, like Geff said, where I will call Rhoyle, ‘Hey Rhoyle, give me some advice on this cause I don’t want it to sound disrespectful. I don’t want it to come off like I’m saying the wrong thing. Talk to me about this.’ Just learning different things, so that we all can be better human beings and treat people with respect and love. He’s just an amazing human being, an amazing person. I like what Mitch said, it’s just breaking down that stereotype. Everybody can be cool and be together and it not be nothing weird and crazy. It’s just one big family. It’s one big friendship.”
“Exactly. We’re getting rid of that toxic masculinity and we’re embracing each other as humans, you know?” Mitchell Edwards added.
That’s exactly the kind of attitude of growth that we should expect to see on college campuses and if you ask Netta Walker, it’s not all just talk either.
“Rhoyle has this monumental task, right, of breaking down gender stereotypes within the Black community, and not only are they doing it with grace, but this cast is doing it in a way that’s so supportive and present,” Walker said, adding that her own experience has been completely different from King’s. “I’m a queer woman and I’m not presentably giving you anything. You wouldn’t guess anything about me. There’s a different conversation around someone who is presentably gender nonconforming because you get backlash and not only is Rhoyle ready for people to say anything crazy to them — this cast will be on anybody if anybody said anything.”
“It’s so wonderful to see, especially knowing the tribulations of the queer community that we’ve just gone through for a very long time,” Walker added. “It’s so incredible to be on set with a bunch of Black people that are like, ‘Yeah baby you look good.”
We love to see it.
“All-American: Homecoming” premieres February 21st at 9PM EST on the CW Network!