David Makes Man debuts with a stunning, but ultimately gut-wrenching “David’s Sky” that seeks to explore trauma & the struggles of growing up black.
This recap of the David Makes Man Premiere, “David’s Sky”, contains spoilers.
The Oprah Winfrey Network does it again! Oscar-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney makes his TV debut with David Makes Man, a coming-of-age drama that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is heartbreaking but also may require multiple viewings to fully process. However, the series is so different from other OWN originals. Will the channel’s core audience take to a show like this?
“David’s Sky” opens with our titular character (Akeli McDowell) dreaming. It’s a close-up on his face, and he looks stunned. We don’t know what he’s looking at, or who the person is whispering in his ear, but we will soon enough. David awakens to find his younger brother JG (Cayden K. Williams) has wet the bed. Judging by David’s annoyance, this isn’t the first time this has happened. We see David in the role of a caretaker as his mother sleeps, exhausted from a long shift. His caretaker role includes making sure JG gets to school on time, and it’s often at the cost of him missing the bus to his own school.
David runs into Sky (Isaiah Johnson), a mentor figure, on the city bus, and he encourages David to present his project before the other students to avoid becoming overwhelmed with anxiety. We discover that David is enrolled in a gifted program at a magnet school, and is quite smart. When Seren (Nathaniel Logan McIntyre) takes the opportunity to present his project first from David, the latter lashes out. David implies that Seren’s stepdad is sexually abusing him, and the two wind up fighting. One trip to the principal’s office later, and both boys are feeling guilty over the incident. David tries to minimize Seren’s punishment by saying he was the instigator.
The principal has a chat with the boys’ teacher, Dr. Woods-Trap (Phylicia Rashad), and she suggests that David needs to talk to a counselor. The principal agrees, but only if David’s mother agrees to do so. David returns from school, and he and Sky argue about the day’s events. On his way home, David stops JG from fighting a peer, much to the local gang’s annoyance. They’re clearly interested in recruiting JG, and want him to be on “night watch,” aka be on the lookout while the gang gets up to no good. David volunteers in JG’s place to keep him out of trouble.
At home, we see the complicated dynamic between David and his mother, Gloria (Alana Arenas), a recovering addict with dreams of escaping their situation (and CPS). David admits to her about the day’s events, and the two have a heated argument about keeping on the straight and narrow. That night, David is on watch, but gets distracted by Sky, who talks to him about trauma, growth, and the need to do better.
The next day at school, David has avoided getting in-school-suspension and will see a counselor every week. His happiness is short-lived when he stumbles upon Seren’s bruised ribs in the bathroom. David lashes out at Sky after school, revealing that the latter is actually dead and is a figment of his imagination. We come full circle by starting off with David’s dream, possibly implying that what he is seeing is Sky’s murder.
David Makes Man is like an indie film. It’s visually stunning and very artsy, and is unlike anything OWN has tried before. While a strong episode, I do wonder if the episode’s structure and style will be something the channel’s core audience will be able to connect to. I guess only time (and ratings) will tell! I know I’ll be around for episode two for sure.