The CW's "All American: Homecoming" Provides a Slice of Life Look at the HBCU Experience

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: The CW's "All American: Homecoming" Provides a Slice of Life Look at the HBCU Experience

The CW's All American: Homecoming is off to a promising start. The series, a spin-off from the network's All American (currently in its fourth season), follows the story of Simone Hicks, a young tennis hopeful from Beverly Hills, getting back into the swing of things after having a baby (that she put up for adoption) and spending time away from the court. The drama is set amidst the backdrop of the HBCU experience at the fictional Bringston University in Georgia (where Black excellence is a way of life). There, Simone finds herself dealing with the high stakes of college sports, all while navigating unsupervised college life and making new friends. "The spinoff is centered around tennis, baseball and HBCU life in general," said executive producer and showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll (NK) recently while promoting the show, regarding how this series differs from its football-centered predecessor.

"Bringston University, which I have to often remind myself is not a real institution, is very much a character on the show," she continued. "It's very much the life force and the source of home, heart, soul and everything for the students. It's a very specific experience at an HBCU, and we wanted to make sure we were bringing that specificity. My actors may feel differently, but that's very much the goal."

The ensemble cast of actors Carroll is referring to is headed by series lead Geffri Maya (pictured at top), who to portray Simone believably had to become adept on the tennis court. "I'll keep it real," she laughed. "I did not learn tennis or hold a racket until NK and I discovered that this [series] was even possible [after] the backdoor pilot. So, the second it was a go, I was looking for tennis coaches. I was in classes every other day, working out."

The same goes for Peyton Alex Smith (pictured below), who as baseballer Damon Sims really needed to hit his mark. "When we shot the pilot, I remember getting up on the mound, and that was like the second day of me holding a baseball in like 17 years," he recalled with a laugh. "I was terrified out there. But I knew I was supposed to be this super athlete. After finishing the pilot, I got hooked up with one of the Braves' scouting coaches for pitching. We really put in the work; then went to some games. We [sat] in dugouts with some of the college kids and saw how they interacted in that environment. [Now] I have a lot more respect for the sport, as it's not easy."

"I was always told to just say, 'Yes, I've been playing for years'," chimed in Maya. "And then you go to practice and make it happen. I will never tell NK no -- never. Are you an astronaut? Yes. I am going to space camp."

The most important thing for the show's creator, along with its cast, is that AA:H present a true representation of the Black college experience. "All of us have the abilities and the intelligence to be able to utilize our life experiences and our education at PWIs, or other institutions, no matter where you learn," explained Maya. "I think that NK creating this world, and this universe, is opening doors for people who have no idea what it means to go to an HBCU. It just opens a door for your mind and heart to expand, because at the end of the day, Black excellence is a way of life. It's not just in a script. It's not just an episode. It's not just one hour a week on a certain day. We actually live these lives.

"Kids who are either on the brink of college, or questioning if they want to go to college, these are all real things they're thinking about," she added. "We have an opportunity to utilize our craft to promote, support, enlighten and encourage this type of community and celebrate it in a way, that's like, yeah, things get real. But at the end of the day, things are real, and this place is real. That's really who we're doing it for -- these kids."

One character Carroll is incredibly proud to have included in the series is Nathaniel, portrayed by Rhoyale Ivy King (pictured above), a character who identifies as non-binary. Carroll said that Nathaniel came to fruition organically. "I'd love to be like, 'I'm gonna break ground and put the first non-binary character on The CW'," she explained. "No. Rhoyale walked into the audition, or rolled in, strutted it, and all of a sudden I'm like, 'Okay, wait, Nate needs to stick around.' That's a testament to Rhoyale as an actor.

"I also have attachment issues," she continued. "I attach quickly and don't let go. That's what happens with actors. I fall in love with them and I'm like, 'Oh, expand the role.' That's what happened with Rhoyale, who [killed] in the audition. All of a sudden, Nate grew in my head and all the ways we could make sure we're representing the queer community at an HBCU, and the real truth of what that experience is like. [That] was born out the inspiration of what Rhoyale brought to the role.

"I wanted to make sure I was giving a voice to a community that doesn't often get given a voice and feel represented," she added in closing. "I want to carve the path until all of us can have our voice out there."

All American: Homecoming is telecast Mondays at 9:00 p.m. on The CW.

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