When Little Marvin sat down to write what would become “Them: Covenant,” the first season of his Amazon anthology series, he could have crafted a period drama about the painful racism Black families faced upon moving into traditionally white neighborhoods during the Great Migration in the 1950s. But in an effort to reach the widest audience possible, and start a conversation in the process, Marvin went another route.
“What I wanted to do was not come in through the front door of history. There was a version of the story I flirted with at the beginning that was much more like a drama. And I consider that kind of going through the front door of the house, like I could have told this in very much a documentary kind of way,” Little Marvin, a nominee at this year’s Writers Guild Awards in the original longform category, tells Gold Derby during our “Meet the Experts” panel. “But I was more interested in kind of sneaking around to the back of the house, breaking open the basement window, and putting myself down into the basement floor of history, like the subterranean place, the subtextual place, like the things that kind of really frightened me personally to grapple with. And so there was never any mistaking that horror was how it was going to go down.”
A supernatural horror series inspired by factual stories of racist housing practices, as well as Marvin’s own experiences with seeing Black people terrorized by law enforcement officials and white supremacists on social media over the last decade, “Them” was a constant balancing act for Marvin and his writers.
“We set out from the beginning to just sort of be honest, and to honestly sort of document and also pay our respects to so many experiences,” he says of the show, which is set in 1953 in the Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles. “What I was most interested in more than even the physical violence was the emotional fallout. I had never really seen a story told in that particular time, that dealt with the sort of psychological fallout of that kind of stare, and that kind of gaze always in your life. And so we lead with that. And of course, there’s a level of physical violence that goes along with it. But we really sort of tasked ourselves to be as open and as honest as we could with that experience, and to put you in the hot seat.”
For Marvin, that mission statement proved successful: “Them” generated loud conversations online after its debut last spring – a result that even surprised the creator himself.
“We only set out to make something truthful, and hopefully honest. And you know, and it was about the characters,” he says. “But on the flip side, the fact that like it did engender all of this conversation to me, it’s only positive.”
“Them” is streaming on Amazon now.
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