David Makes Man

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
David Makes Man TV Poster Image
Lyrical drama has mature content, great beauty.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

This drama sympathizes with its subjects and sees the systemic ways they're trapped and limited. Characters demonstrate compassion for others, and integrity by living up to their obligations and holding to their promises. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are complicated and realistic, like David, who works hard to keep up with his classmates at his magnet school but also keeps up a tough front in front of the young men in his neighborhood. He also cares tenderly for his brother and gives him good advice, like telling him to "Stay calm, no fighting," at school and keeping him quiet so their tired mom can sleep in. Mom Gloria is a recovering addict and has to work hard to make ends meet but finds time to keep her sons fed and to check in with David's teachers. The cast mostly consists of African-American characters, each of whom is treated with dignity, including a gender-fluid man, and characters who vary in age and life circumstances. Expect some racism that shows what characters deal with, such as when a white neighbor tells David to move his "black ass" on down the road. 

Violence

Characters can be rough with each other, like when David slaps his little brother when he thinks he's being disrespected. There are also scuffles, like when David and Seren fight in class, and two young boys fight as a crowd of older boys circles them and eggs them on with chants. A group of drug dealers threatens a character with violent rape (he doesn't follow through): "I should f--k your ass, bro." Another character is being sexually abused by his stepfather; we don't see the sexual abuse (just hear about the man "touching on him at night"), but we see severe bruises on the boy after he gets in trouble at school. 

Sex

The adolescents in this drama are interested in sex and talk/joke about it, like when a group of girls speculate that David "has a big..." (she trails off significantly) and one boy tells an older one to be careful when "slipping out of" his girlfriend's window (where he presumably visted for sex). A character is gender fluid and is more comfortable in makeup and women's clothing, but sometimes dresses in male clothing. A character makes a joke about a cat and sex, telling David that "p---y will distract you." A middle-school character is being sexually abused by his stepfather, see "Violence" section for more information. 

Language

Expect cursing ("f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "hell," "damn") as well as offensive/touchy racial words ("white boy," the n-word), and slurs about gender and sexuality ("p---y," "faggot-ass"). 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The older boys who hang around David's apartment building smoke cigarettes, drink beers out of brown paper bags, and talk about drugs; they also sell drugs and we see customers driving or walking up, and exchanging money for something palmed off. Gloria is a recovering addict who's now "clean." David is asked to be a lookout for the drug dealers, to warn them when police are near. The dangerous consequences of dealing are clear, with characters who are killed or jailed in the course of business. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that David Makes Man is a drama about a 14-year-old boy who struggles to find a balance between the environment at his upscale magnet school and his impoverished and difficult home life. Characters are realistic and complicated; their problems are treated with dignity and the systemic limitations of their lives are made clear. Drug dealers have a thriving business in the projects David lives in; we see them smoking cigarettes, drinking beer from brown bags, and engaging in sales, with customers driving and walking up to exchange cash for drugs (and on at least one occasion David acts as a lookout for the dealers, warning them when police are near); getting shot by rival dealers or cops is a constant menace, as is being arrested for dealing. The dealers are also a locus for violence, cheering on two young neighborhood boys as they fight and menacing David -- in one scene, a dealer threatens him sexually, saying he's going to "f--k" David's "ass." A young character is being sexually abused by his stepfather; we don't see the sexual abuse (just hear about the stepdad "touching on him at night"), but do see terrible bruises on his body after his stepdad beats him for getting in trouble at school. Jokes may target sex, as when a character makes a double-entendre about a cat: "p---y will distract you." Still, a gender-fluid character is treated with respect and accepted for who they are, an example of the compassion characters show each other, while their integrity is clear by the way they keep their promises and live up to obligations. Cursing includes "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "hell," and "damn" as well as racial slurs (the n-word) and words about gender and sexuality: "faggot-ass." Yet the overall tone of the drama is uplifting, with characters who refuse to be defined by their life circumstances and the expectations of others. 

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What's the story?

David (Akili McDowell), the 14-year-old hero of DAVID MAKES MAN, is a boy in conflict. Sometimes it feels like everyone expects to see a different David. At his magnet school he's expected to be studious and hard-working, on a path to higher education under the watchful eye of his gifted English teacher, Dr. Woods-Trap (Phylicia Rashad). At home, he has to compensate for the gaps left by his struggling mom Gloria (Alana Arenas) and care for his little brother. Around the Miami projects where he lives, he's forced to act tough to save face, particularly when one neighborhood dealer takes a particular interest in David's future. This drama is created by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who won an Academy Award as the co-writer of Moonlight

Is it any good?

This lyrical and achingly beautiful drama takes its time getting where it's going, but the destination is such an uncommonly beautiful one that you'll be happy to settle in and wait. From the moment we meet the title character, sweaty from an unsuccessful school-bus chase and supremely jittery about an upcoming class presentation he fears will expose his improverished background to his better-off classmates, we sympathize deeply with his conflict. At school he sees a display of privilege that adults tell him could be his someday; in the evenings, he returns to a place where the most successful people he knows eventually wind up dead or in jail. Stuck in between, his code-switching is made all the more plain by the different names others call him. To his mom and teachers, he's diligent David; to the rough crowd at the projects he's Dai; to his school friend Seren (Nathaniel Logan McIntyre) he's class clown DJ. And one of the main things this series gets exactly right is depicting just how much it takes out of David to maintain each conflicting persona, how exhausting and confusing and scary it is to be this boy at this time and place.

But the drama also has sympathy for each character we meet: for Glorida, trapped in systemic poverty; for Dr. Woods-Trap, who can only do so much for her students; even for Raynan (Ade Chike Torbert), the underage dealer who projects an aura of power but beneath it is just as desperate for security and authentic connections as David himself. It's painful to watch them struggle, but there's beauty in it too. As David explains in his class presentation, playing a Mary J. Blige song, so many people feel like they're unimportant and nothing special, "but something as simple as a song on the radio can tell you that you’re not a nobody." David Makes Man is potent evidence that a TV show can too. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about David and how David Makes Man depicts the challenges he faces growing up. Is the movie respectful of and empathetic to his situation? Does it give viewers a deeper understanding of the social and economic forces that shape his life?

  • David is frequently a target for bullies around the housing project he lives in. How does the film handle the subject of bullying? How did Chiron's circumstances shape the man he becomes? 

  • How is drug use portrayed in the movie? What role do drugs play in David's life, and in the life of those around him? How does it impact their futures?

  • How do the characters in David Makes Man demonstrate compassion and integrity? Why are those important character strengths?

TV details

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