CAN “GROWN” DO FOR MIAMI WHAT “TREME” DID FOR N’ORLEANS?

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BROTHERS GONNA WORK IT OUT? photo courtesy Juan Barriga

Editor’s note: This new web series, and the review thereof, has generated more internal controversy than possibly any other pop culture topic we have posted.  Many internal and external commenters (mostly, but not exclusively from the ranks of the elder crowd) have denounced this series and its frank portrayal of love and youth today.  Others view it as an eye-opening opportunity, a catalyst for inter-generational dialogue and connection.

What do you think?  We’d like to know.  

In this corner is Wes (Edson Jean), a 20-something Miamian who thinks he’s got it going, and maybe he does.  A wannabe actor, Wes is a player on and off-stage.  Chasing and catching the women – all the women – sometimes takes priority over his commitment to the theater.

And in this corner, we have Josh (Joshua Jean-Baptiste.)  He is forced, by family tragedy and finances, to move in with cousin Wes the player.  Josh, not surprisingly, wants to grow outside the constraints of a traditional, hierarchical, Haitian household.  Less sure of himself, he appears to envy Wes and his confidence around the opposite sex. Wes is generous and willing to share his romantic expertise, if that’s what it is.  Josh is poised, ready to study the art and craft of chasing women.

This premise sets up the new internet comedy/drama GROWN which has its premier on the Complex Network.

GROWN is the latest collaboration between film makers/screenwriters Joshua Jean-Baptiste and Edson Jean.  The duo’s biggest splash, before this one, was winning the “Project Greenlight” competition.  This “Showtime at the Apollo” knockoff (like American Idol, Dancing w/ Stars, The Voice, etc.) has filmmakers competing for assistance in funding and producing a show.  The $25,000 prize helped propel the team forward.

Unlike the characters they portray, they are not cousins. However, they’ve developed a symbiotic working relationship that facilitated the 2013 project “The Adventures of Edison Jean,” an official selection of the American Black Film Festival.  Based in Miami, of course,  the film was also shown on HBO.

Miami is a best supporting character in this series.  Not the city portrayed in “Miami Vice,” with its gold coast, cocaine connections, and pastel couture.  And not the Miami of the Krome Detention Center with its long-ago protests against the mistreatment of Haitian refugees.  (Editor’s note: the protests are long ago – the mistreatment persists) This show features today’s Miami, in particular the working class neighborhoods where Latinos, Caribbean’s, Anglos, and Afros try to survive.

Maybe GROWN will do for and with Miami what TREME did for New Orleans; remind folks that the African diaspora, including its Haitian-American component, includes more than the bi-coastal urban centers.  Miami’s Haitian ‘hood has a larger population than that of New York and Boston combined.  Throw in Liberty City and good things must be happening in that town.

GROWN is a new, fresh take on an old subject; Afro-twenty-somethings trying to figure out the meaning of life and love, assuming there is a meaning. I’m reminded of the Ghanaian production, “An African City,” Nicole Amarteifio’s 2016 web series that describes itself as an African “Sex in the City.”  (I’m not endorsing the concept, just describing it.  I’m not sure we need an African SITC).  In the Ghana-set production, BTW, the ladies are the players and the men their prey.

And I’m hearing echoes of Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” the movie.  GROWN’s Josh shares the emotional vulnerability of SGHI’s Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks, whatever happened to him?)

The program is must-see TV, for both the younger and the elder viewer.  Clearly, its primary audience/target is the sweet spot of the entertainment industry, the 18-34-year-old big spenders.  But the program, when viewed properly, has a lot to offer old timers – if they’re open to learning.  And that doesn’t mean that you have to like what’s being said.  As long as the creators to like it; that’s enough.  The viewer gets to learn, possibly enjoy the world according to the creative team.
For the older viewer, this program offers a glimpse, a peek into the alternate reality where our young people reside.  You may not like what you see, but it’s important to see what’s being presented.  And to accept that young visual artists are probably best situated to explain their world to the elders.
As regards that target audience; they want their sex emotion-free, plentiful, consensual, and accompanied by loud music.  Mission accomplished in that regard.  Dessalines may not approve, but jungle fever is in full effect, even in the absence of a jungle.  The partners, a multi-ethnic smorgasbord of willing young ladies, appear to know and accept the rules.  No complaints, no commitments, no problems.
I look forward to seeing if that approach can be sustained throughout the series.  On the part of the guys or their partners.

This is especially true for Josh, who I think is the protagonist, maybe the next Awkward Black Guy.  His lack of certainty and confidence might be a good thing, creating an opportunity for emotional growth.  The cocksure Wes might have a harder path – not an impossible path – to maturity, sustainability, and fulfillment. If you think you know it all, you see no need to learn more.

This is where I hope the series will go and grow.  Can Josh absorb, experience, and transcend the ass-backward love/life lessons of cousin Wes, and figure out a way to more human relationships with the ladies?  Can Wes figure out that he doesn’t know it all, and establish some cross-gender common ground?  And can the assembly line ladies assert their non-physical attractions and get these brothers woke?

The release includes the entire series run.  Having seen only the first episode, I can’t wait to see the answers.  You can start here.  And after the first viewing, join the talk back/cross talk at these social media spaces:

Twitter: @complexgrown
Facebook: Grown
Instagram: complexgrown

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