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‘All American: Homecoming’ creator, star talk celebrating HBCUs, Jordan and Simone’s future

Showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll also revealed if fans can expect more “All American” crossovers. 
"All American: Homecoming" star Geffri Maya (left) and creator Nkechi Okoro Carroll (right).
"All American: Homecoming" star Geffri Maya (left) and creator Nkechi Okoro Carroll (right).Aaron Rapoport / Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

In season three of “All American,” fans were introduced to Bringston, a fictional HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia. During the antepenultimate episode, titled “Homecoming,” Geffri Maya’s character Simone toured the school and began to feel a sense of belonging. Simone told her aunt Amara, played by Kelly Jenrette, that it was “amazing to be someplace that’s for us, by us, where excellence is expected.” 

The episode served as a back-door pilot to the appropriately named spin-off series, “All American: Homecoming.” Ahead of the CW drama’s premiere on Monday night, creator Nkechi Okoro Carroll, who also serves as executive producer on the original series, and Maya spoke to TODAY about expanding the world of “All American.” They also shared what viewers can expect to see as Simone’s new life at Bringston unfolds. 

Carroll revealed that the idea for “All American: Homecoming” first began as a quip she made to fellow executive producer Greg Berlanti. She joked during the first season of “All American” that superhero shows weren’t the only series that could build universes. 

‘“All American,’ is going to have a universe too,” she said she told him at the time. 

While playfully suggesting there could be 15 iterations of the show, she was also slightly serious. Carroll began crafting an idea of expanding the series as soon as Simone was introduced in season two.

The suggestion for a spin-off show shocked Maya, who shared that initially her role as a recurring guest star was only supposed to last three, at most five, episodes.

Maya recalled being grateful that Carroll believed in her dreams and wanted to put a Black female student-athlete at the forefront of a series. “All it’s doing is continuing that cycle of Black stories and Black excellence,” the actor said. 

Carroll decided to bring her lifelong dream of attending an HBCU to life. Many of her family members are alumni of HBCUs, so she wanted Bringston to be an amalgamation of those institutions and also a reflection of college life in Atlanta. 

Speaking about the significance of going to a HBCU, she explained,“It’s sort of like this mecca of college experiences.” 

Carroll added, “We just wanted to make sure we captured that in an authentic way so that you could really feel the distinction, not just in the storylines and the characters, but also just in the setting.”

As an alumnus of Clark Atlanta University, an HBCU, Maya said that being on set felt reminiscent of her college experience.

“For me, going to an HBCU wasn’t a scene. It wasn’t an audition. It wasn’t like a script. It was my actual life," she said.

She praised the show for representing Black culture and being part of a “Renaissance” that showcases Black people. 

Carroll hopes that “All American: Homecoming” teaches viewers the diversity of experiences young Black youth have in college. 

“There’s no one way to be Black. There’s no one way to be brilliant,” Carroll explained.

Her goal is for the Maya-led series to push the audience to “open their eyes to new experiences, new culture and really what we mean when we say Black excellence. Like, it’s not just a hashtag, but the reality of what these Black students are (contributing).”

That includes highlighting Black minority culture as well, which Carroll noted is rarely depicted on television. She pointed to one of the main characters named Keisha, portrayed by Netta Walker, who is Black and Filipina. 

Start Over
"All American: Homecoming" pilot episode "Start Over" (L-R): Rhoyle Ivy King as Nathaniel Hardin, Geffri Maya as Simone Hicks and Netta Walker as Keisha McCalla Ser Baffo / The CW

Most importantly, she said she hopes fans are inspired by seeing the characters “look into their identity and be okay with whatever it is that they find.” 

She continued, “(While) also being young and sexy and Black.” 

In multiple scenes, the characters visit a display that highlights names and accomplishments of Black trailblazers. Maya said she’s excited that those moments allow viewers to learn about Black history and Black culture. 

“Whether they look like me or not, that can encourage (people) to do their research and to look up Black history and to get an idea of the contributions that we have continuously made up until this very moment,” Maya explained. 

Another meaningful aspect of HBCU culture that the teen drama will tackle is fraternity life. Sylvester Powell’s character JR is part of Kappa Epsilon Kappa, a fictitious Black fraternity. The show will explore the importance of his brotherhood throughout the first season.

Carroll said she is surrounded by family and friends who are in the “Divine Nine” — historically African American sororities and fraternities. She felt a responsibility to represent them and the importance of the organizations on and off HBCU campuses. 

During the back-door pilot, viewers also met Damon Sims, a student athlete played by Peyton Alex Smith. Damon and Simone immediately had chemistry despite her relationship with Jordan, portrayed by Michael Evans Behling in “All American.”

After witnessing a couple lingering glances between Damon and Simone, fans grew skeptical that the tennis player will end up with her high school boyfriend and voiced their concerns on social media

Addressing the response, Carroll laughed, “Our fans are so sure they know what’s going to happen. I’ve been catching flack for stuff that hasn’t even happened.”

Fans can relax for now. Two different states — and shows — won’t be enough to keep the two apart. 

Carroll said she loves that viewers are so invested in the relationship and the writers want to continue exploring the connection between Simone and Jordan. 

“This isn’t even a spoiler because I’ve said it since the beginning of the season — we did not fight this hard to put Simone and Jordan together just to have her go to college and for them to just break up over summer and go live separate lives,” she reassured.  

She also explained that being a part of the “All American” universe means “we’re gonna see both of them cross over into each other’s worlds as a fight to navigate college.” With her boyfriend, friends and family back in Los Angeles, Simone has plenty of ties to the west coast. 

Jordan and Simone won’t be the only characters featured in both shows. Carroll teased that Simone’s world will “overlap in both shows and we’ll see crossovers.” 

And Maya can’t wait for fans to see it. She mostly looks forward to them watching Simone’s growth in and outside of her relationship with Jordan. 

“I love that we’re focusing on relationships that are not just highlighted by trauma, but also just about family and love and encouragement and support,” Maya explained. “We need that right now.”

Maya summed up her storyline and “All American: Homecoming” as “empowering and encouraging and celebrating Black girl magic.”