Season 1 – Episode 1
David Makes Man is a coming of age story. David lives in the projects in Florida. He is constantly code switching and doing his best to navigate all of his worlds. David, Dai, DJ. Son of a recovering addict, brother and parent figure to JG, kid of the projects, student at a prestigious magnet school. David endures more than any 14-year old child should have to.
David Makes Man begins with David dreaming of someone whispering in his ear. He looks scared and sweating and dreams of water. Upon awaking, his little brother JG is standing over him with his wet sheets. Apparently, this happens to JG often. Not wanting to disturb his mother’s sleep, David handles JG’s accident like an adult. In the morning, David walks JG to school and seemingly enjoys the grass, birds and quiet that surrounds him. He begs JG not to fight at school because their mom CANNOT be called to the school. After the drop off, David must run back home, take the wet sheets to the laundromat, and try his best to bypass all of the project drug dealers and gangsters. Finally making it through all of the morning obstacles, he stops to feel the sun on his face and take a breath and looks up just in time to see the school bus driving off. He gets on the city bus, sweaty and with his uniform half on. We learn that David goes to a magnet school. On the bus, Sky (who seems to be like a father figure) wants to make sure he’s alright. Sky reminds David that he is not just a regular boy. He is in a magnet school, which means he made a choice and that he could get into Hurston Prep – David’s dream school. David seems out of it, but Sky is there to get him right. You cannot sink down – not today. David has a presentation due today. But just like that Sky is gone. What was that about? Who is Sky?
By the time the bus reaches school, David looks like a new man. He isn’t sweaty. His uniform is neat. He puts on a smile and confidently walks to school. He walks up just in time to see his friend, Seren, being dropped off. Seren doesn’t want to get out of the car, but sees “DJ” (his school persona) and immediately gets out. His stepfather (who I got immediate bad vibes from) forces Seren to tell his mom to have a good day. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I don’t like it. At school, DJ is playful. Apparently, Seren is a full-time magnet student, while DJ only has one gifted class, but they are best friends. DJ calls Seren a genius.
In DJ’s gifted class, Dr. Woods-Trap (played by the incomparable Phylicia Rashad) is grilling her class about all the studying they neglected to do over the weekend. Dr. W-T wants them to understand that she is getting them ready for high school, and they need to be ready if they are trying to go to these advanced schools, like Hurston. The questions of the day are: (1) How did I get here? And (2) What is your story? Who will go first? David and Seren move at the same time, but Seren starts talking. He goes first and David isn’t pleased. Apparently, Seren is musically gifted and he allows that to shape his story. Seren is bi-racial. He speaks about his step-father’s family and, we learn that he has a little privilege and that their family started the school in the 1930’s. The school was popular because of it’s choir. As Seren prepares music, the screech from the microphone triggers DJ into a quick dreamlike state. Seren continues with his story about how the railroad workers and field hands would hear the school choir sing and know that it was time to sign their kids up for school. Songs that built railroads and the music of call and response became our music of today. Seren leads the class in a soulful call and response and talks about “our” music and black people’s legacy, which clearly irritates DJ. Seren is emotional and passionate about teaching his white classmates about where he comes from. Dr. W-T is pleased. DJ walks up to the front of his class, looking like he is going to congratulate his friend. He whispers, “Ray teaching you something new at night, huh?” And Seren punches him.
In the principal’s office, she advises the boys that if they don’t get to the bottom of this, Seren will be kicked out and David will get in school suspension. David takes the blame. He antagonized Seren by calling him a white boy and wannabe nigga. Seren escapes expulsion. David has more explaining to do. He is fighting during his ONLY gifted the class, the ONLY reason he is in the magnet school to begin with. He explains that he said what he said – Seren isn’t black, but he’s trying to be. Through the conversation, the principal learns that David’s lights have been off, his mother doesn’t have a phone and their phone is off.
Outside of the principal’s office the two boys sit nervously and have a conversation with body language and looks alone. What each of them are thinking is scribbled in their handwriting above their heads. Why did you do that? I don’t know. I hit you. I got SO mad. Why’d you say that? I don’t know. You wanted me to hurt you? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. You lied to the principal. And then Seren’s mom arrives to pick him up. And all his mom has to say is, “wait until your stepdaddy hears about this.” And I am scared for Seren. David remains nervously seated awaiting his fate. Dr. W-T attempts to smooth things over for David with the principal. He is the only one in that class who looks like him. The principal isn’t buying that because Seren is in the class, too. But, Seren doesn’t LOOK like David. Dr. W-T tells the principal that “surely, you don’t want me to diagram colorism just now.” It’s killing David that he’s the only one and he is trying to excel and prove himself. The principal wants him to see the counselor, but that will require his mother to sign off on that. She has real concerns about his home life.
While walking home after school, Sky appears again. Sky is ready to quiz David on what Dr. W-T. has taught him. Apparently, Sky was a former student of hers. But, the real business at hand is how the presentation went. David reluctantly tells Sky he didn’t go. How is that possible when he was supposed to go first? He was supposed to impress Dr. W-T to make his chances of going to prep school even better. David tries to get away from the conversation and Sky. He runs right into a crowd of folks watching his brother, JG, fight. David stops it and the hood isn’t happy about that development. It’s all good tho because what the neighborhood gangsters really need is for JG to be their lookout tonight. David agrees to do it so keep JG out of this. JG is only 9.
The brothers make it home and Gloria meets her boys. JG has been fighting and moms knows it. David tells Gloria that he was fighting today, too, and gives her the letter she needs to sign for counseling. In David’s mind, he is hugging his mother, but in reality, he stands to hear why Gloria can’t have this happen. The principal thinks David’s home life is the problem and she cannot have the school or social services questioning them or her. She is a recovering addict and she almost lost them once. She thought David was at home with his brother, but he was running the streets with Sky. She dreams of making enough money to get them out of the hood. Maybe she can work enough shifts at the truck stop so they can move closer to David’s dream school – Hurston.
Sky appears again and David says he is not supposed to be seeing him. Sky won’t leave him alone. He wants to know what happened at school. As soon as David is ready to talk, he turns around to a police car rolling through the projects and Sky is gone. That night, David assumes his role as the lookout for the projects. Raynan, the head project gangster, appears and brings David some food, which he declines. Raynan says that they have been through a lot and they lost a lot and he will keep reaching out. He was an only child, and as far has he knew, he was “his” only…and he gets jealous. They are brothers…without their father? Hmmmm. The lookout continues but David is consumed. He hears Dr. W-T’s voice. He practices his presentation. Where do you come from? I come from the Vil, I come from the hood, the gutter! What is your story? I come from people who know hard work. My grandfather had to leave Alabama for smashing a white dude in the head with a bottle. He didn’t play that and neither do I. David thinks what he has come up with is stupid. He starts again. I come from growers (and his dreaming takes him back to the ancestors). I come from dirt. I come from water. I come from laughter (and we finally see David being a kid and having fun in a water fight with the kids in the project). I come from runners (we see shackled feet and sneakered feet). And his dream is interrupted by sirens. He failed at the lookout job, but no one got caught up that night. This will probably become a problem.
Finally in his bed, David hears humming. It’s Sky outside his window. Sky is still quizzing David. This time about a poem he was supposed to look up. David is more worried about how he messed up with Raynan. Sky tells him to focus on school and David is finally ready to talk about what happened at school. It landed him with the school counselor, but Sky says that could be a positive. They need to know he’s one of the good ones. Play it. Don’t worry about Seren – there’s only one black face on that Hurston booklet. Sky tells David that he was once in David’s shoes and he had to make a choice. I guess he made the wrong one because he is still in the hood. Sky wants David to make the hard choice.
And again, David dreams of water, and again JG is standing with wet sheets. And the next day begins just like the last one did. Running for the bus, missing it, getting to school just in time. The principal is waiting. She has talked to his mother and she is happy with the integrity he exhibited. He escaped in school suspension, but must have a few sessions with the counselor. He wants to know what will happen to Seren, but doesn’t get an answer. David celebrates his win in the bathroom, but the celebration is short-lived. He recognizes Seren’s shoes in the stall and walks in on a bruised Seren.
A sweaty and contemplative David sits alone to process what’s happened. Sky appears, again. David is not supposed to see him. Why does he keep seeing him? But since Sky is here, David is ready to let it all out. He took Sky’s advice to only care about himself. But Seren is his friend. Seren had also confided in David that his stepfather abuses him – physically and sexually. Sky says it’s not David’s problem, but David disagrees. Seren only has him and he let Seren down. It IS his problem, too. He put all of this in motion because he was mad that Seren was getting ahead of him. How could he hurt his boy? And it’s all because of Sky. But, Sky isn’t really there. Sky is dead. A dope boy who got killed. David’s friend who was killed. It’s Sky’s ghost that keeps appearing to David. He pleads with Sky to go.
And the dream we began with comes back. It’s Sky talking to David and whispering that “the first bite is the hardest.”
Although this story is difficult, it’s a reality for many. DMM takes a deep dive into a black boy’s journey.
I immediately fell in love with the “look” of DMM. It has a movie feel and the dream sequences are intriguing.
I love that David’s dream school is Hurston Prep. Surely it’s named after Zora Neale Hurston.
David breaks my heart. I so desperately want him to choose the path that will be sustaining for him. But there’s SO MUCH noise, so many other factors, so many things outside of his control. But, I am here to see how David Makes Man. How will his story unfold? Will anything get better? Will he catch a break? Will he make it to Hurston Prep?
Stay tuned. I know I will be.
BreAugust 18, 2019 at 9:40 am
What a very thorough and enlightening recap. I watched DMM and admittedly was left feeling perplexed about a number of scenes, but now it’s “clicked” for me. David/DJ/Dai is very indicative of so many children growing up “in the hood”. They actually have what it takes to be a successful student if it were not for all of the extraneous noise, people and circumstances, beyond their control, that they have to contend with. It’s hard to be your best… give your best when your daily goal is just plain survival and your basic needs (food, clothing and housing) are not being met. As stated, it is a “difficult reality for many”.
I am here for David’s journey through it all.
KayAugust 20, 2019 at 4:03 pm
I will admit that this will be a hard one to get into. A part of me just doesn’t want to because it’s A LOT. But the other part of me really needs to see this thru.