All American will kick off a police brutality storyline in Monday's episode which will see Olivia (Samantha Logan) take up the charge for Tamika Pratt, a young Black woman who is killed by police when she is found sleeping in her car. The CW drama isn't the first show to take on systemic racism or the Black Lives Matter movement, especially since the video of George Floyd dying at the hands of Minneapolis police went viral last June. However, All American is one of the few shows that is consistently having these conversations because it's a show that prides itself on showcasing the authentic lives of Black youth.
That's also what makes the upcoming storyline so difficult. Showrunner Nkechi Okoro Caroll pitched the Tamika storyline last March as her writers' room was winding down from Season 2. It was just at the start of the pandemic and before George Floyd made national headlines. Over a year later, the first episode in the arc is about to air a mere week after Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes, was convicted of third-degree murder and Columbus, Ohio police were involved in the death of 15-year old Ma'Khia Bryant during an altercation at her home. Caroll had hoped when she pitched the All American storyline that it would be more of a retrospective look at police brutality in America rather than being alarmingly prescient.
"I don't know how I feel truthfully because these have been very difficult episodes to write, and to shoot, and to be immersed in and editing, while also being a parent of young Black kids, while also sort of sitting and watching what was happening with the Derek Chauvin trial, and then the Daunte Wright murder, and now Ma'Khia," Caroll told TV Guide ahead of the episode. "It's one of those things where we pride ourselves on the show being an authentic portrayal of what youth, and especially Black youth, in America go through -- both the trials and tribulations and the joy -- but this is kind of one of those times where you almost wish it had felt outdated."
This is not the first time that All American has discussed the relationship that Black people have with police. The topic was first broached in early Season 1 when Spencer (Daniel Ezra) and Jordan (Michael Evan Behling) were pulled over by cops in Beverly Hills. Now in Season 3, Caroll specifically wanted to focus on a police incident involving a young Black female because historically those cases don't get the same kind of national attention as police brutality involving Black males.
"Breonna Taylor was one of the first times that I felt like this sort of galvanized the nation where it normally feels like with our Black women -- it's a subset of us that are out there screaming their names and fighting for justice for them," Caroll explained. "So I specifically wanted to do it about a Black female, but never in a million years, thinking that there would be a more current Black female, that we would be yelling for justice just days before the episode airs."
Having Tamika be a woman also allows All American to tackle the issue from an extremely personal perspective because Olivia can't help but notice the similarities between Tamika's situation and what went down a few episodes ago when Olivia drove while intoxicated and got herself and Spencer into a fender-bender. Olivia and Spencer got a ride home because Olivia's mom is the District Attorney, but it could have gone down very differently.
"The fact that [Olivia] is a DA's daughter, and not only that, she's a white DA's daughter. It just felt like we had a very unique, very personal lens to be able to tell a story like this in a way that was very personal to our characters, especially in the Baker family," Caroll said. "It's not just in Episode 11. It's actually a whole arc for a few episodes, and it plays out in a very personal way for Olivia, for Laura, for Billy, for Spencer, for Layla. It's something that ends up engulfing a number of our characters, as what really happens in real life."
Everyone should prepare for a powerful and emotional ride from here.
All American airs Mondays at 8/9c on The CW.