Who has seen the avalanche of new Black TV shows that 2021 exploded after delays from 2020? Nobody right? Well at least not all of them. It seems like every week since the beginning of October 2021, there has been something new in the Black hemisphere, via dramas or comedies, premiering on mainstream TV, cable channels, OTT streaming and streaming apps.
One show that may be under the radar and less in the chatter of social media, is Swagger, on Apple TV+. The creative brainchild of Kevin Durant, based on similar experiences while pursuing his basketball dreams in the DMV, is a fresh, coming of age, dramedy, that is almost more movie like than television show
Character development goes far beyond a group of teens playing basketball in a Community league. Swagger encompasses the dynamics you would see in an awkward teenage story and levels up with the diversity of characters and all of their nuances. Although Jace Carson, the main character played by Isaiah Hill, is from the familiar single mother home chasing the NBA dream chronicle, there’s nothing stereotypical about the aesthetic of the actress playing his mom, Shinelle Azoroh. You see a Black woman with natural hair, sun kissed freckles and relatable 21st Century lingo. The refreshing appearance of what the range of melanin looks like in the Black Community surprises you at first as we are used to seeing any type of skin identifiers masked in make up. It makes you appreciate the creative direction and that there was a conscious decision to not cover what is natural.
Standing out as a supporting characters are Coach Naim and his son Musa, played by Sean Baker and Caleel Harris, respectively. Finally, we have African-American Muslims in real life roles, seen interacting with friends, co-workers, family members and doing every day things besides praying at a mosque. The tired Hollywood tropes of Muslims in roles where all they do is pray and Black Muslims standing on the corner selling bean pies, is just that. Tired. These less televised interactions are an energizing and overdue change.
Coach Naim represents the trifecta of a Black, Muslim, Male, put between a rock and a hard place, when the basketball team is unjustly profiled at a restaurant in a very White small town on the way to a basketball tournament. Then later he is again tested while protesting the national anthem. All while experiencing these incidents during the time of racial awakening in America, Coach Naim is vulnerable about his emotional state but also his anger. His son Musa, is the average every day teenager that runs with his boys and is apprehensive around girls, yet is traumatized by certain events. His storyline is a storybook teenage crush to conversation, smartly written as to include the education of Islam but not to be overly preachy as to its principles. It cleverly weaves daddying and Islamic guidance and how they parallel for African-American Muslims.
And lastly, there is intertwined narratives of several characters that have “daddy issues.” Coach Ike, played by Oshea Jackson, Jr, yes that’s Ice Cube’s son, Coach May, played by Tessa Ferrer, a few of the basketball players on the team and even the main character and his sister all deal with unresolved issues where their fathers have strained and adversely impacted their lives. No matter the race, nationality or financial status, different people can experience the same problems. Some characters need love. Some need forgiveness and some need answers. That’s something that Swagger provides. It’s real, honest and genuine conversation with the lack of stereotypes that have plagued other shows.
When you’re ready for something that is innocent enough for tweens and teens but powerful enough for adults, Swagger is exceptional storytelling of modern day issues with the welcomed diversity that makes you smile. Spoiler Alert — They even let a girl play on the team with the boys. Now that’s the diversity we know we want to see!