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Sundance Film Festival

Sundance report: Michael B. Jordan and ‘Moonlight’ writer team up for OWN series

The intense ‘David Makes Man’ is about a gifted kid looking for a way up

Academy Award-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney is still haunted by a character Michael B. Jordan helped bring to life years ago in Friday Night Lights. In the series, Jordan portrayed Vince Howard, whose mom and dad were in and out of prison. Vince’s only choice, after being picked up by police officers (again), was high school football, or jail. He chose the former. The star player on an otherwise hopeless team, Jordan’s character really only wanted to know why his mother could never get it together for him.

The fictional predicament stuck with McCraney, who grew up with a drug-addicted mother who ultimately died of complications from AIDS. The pain of his own childhood was filled with that unanswered question: Why could you never get it together for me?

The intensity of that throwback football series kind of connected Jordan and McCraney and is the impetus for them teaming up, along with Oprah Winfrey, for a gripping new series premiering on OWN later this year. In a 10-episode arc of what feels more like a stylized film, David Makes Man, a coming-of-age story about a prodigy trying to get out of his struggling neighborhood, is perhaps the most envelope-pushing project Winfrey’s network has created to date.

“I never heard somebody else articulate the thoughts I had in my head … [about] the mask I have to put on when going to these auditions.”

Jordan and McCraney (whose Oscar is for co-writing 2016’s Moonlight) talked David at Sundance alongside cast and crew: Jordan about producing and McCraney about writing. The event was produced by Blackhouse, the organization headed up by Brickson Diamond that helps ensure that black creative work is supported at Sundance. The organization is in its 12th year.

“I grew up extremely poor,” said Jordan, who was raised in Newark, New Jersey. “But I didn’t feel like it at the moment. As a kid, you don’t really know … Why are we sleeping in the kitchen with the oven on? Because this is like the new cool thing that we’re doing today. We’re camping, you know what I mean? Our parents do such an amazing job hiding the circumstances and allowing us to be kids.”

In the series, the David character is exceptionally gifted. That’s another way that McCraney and Jordan connected. “The idea of code switching,” says Jordan. “What it was to be from a certain place but … be a part of the gifted program. I was one of those kids … and I never heard somebody else articulate the thoughts I had in my head … [about] the mask I have to put on when going to these auditions, or … when I’m in New York dealing with different people that I’m not used to, coming from north New Jersey. That game that you play … to make it make sense, to make it fun … I just never heard somebody say it out loud in the way Tyrell writes. It was like, man, this is what I’ve got to be a part of. Like however you need me to be a part of this process, however I can help. Just let me know. And we just started getting to work.”

 

Liner Notes

David Makes Man will premiere on OWN.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment writer at The Undefeated. She can act out every episode of the U.S version of "The Office," she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.