The usually bustling lives of the students at Bringston University came to a halt after the campus was put on lockdown due to a bomb threat during Monday night’s episode of The CW series All American: Homecoming.
It’s a story that showrunners Nkechi Okoro Carroll and Marqui Jackson have been hoping to bring to the small screen since the show’s inception, given the rising number of bomb threats made against historically Black colleges and universities over the past several years.
HBCUs in the United States have been targeted by bomb threats at least 57 times this year. In August, Howard University received two bomb threats in the span of a week. To date, no arrests have been made in connection with any of these incidents.
“If there was ever a show to talk about it, I felt like it was ours because we’re set in an HBCU environment and we really push ourselves to put an authentic portrayal of Black youth on TV,” Carroll told Deadline during a recent interview.
Over the course of the episode, the students and faculty are forced to have difficult conversations about how to best move through this shared trauma that they are experiencing. Naturally, the students have very different ideas about how to cope, as well as how to stop this from happening on their campus again.
Carroll and Jackson spoke with Deadline about how they crafted the complex narrative, and how this incident will set the stage for even more discussions about mental health and the importance of Black joy in Episode 5.
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DEADLINE: Why was it important for you to center these two episodes on a bomb threat at Bringston, as opposed to many other incidents that could trigger a conversation about mental health?
NKECHI OKORO CARROLL: Marqui and I have talked about this pretty much since Season 1 — and not just doing the story for shock value, but [laying] out a blueprint for how to recover from something like that as opposed to seeing something like this happen and then expecting the community to just be resilient and pick up the next day and keep going. How do we paint the picture we want to, helping our youth recover from things like that? Even though it’s a very specific story when it’s happened at HBCUs, it is a very universal story of what is happening in this world. Yesterday, there was a bomb threat at Santa Monica High School, and those kids had to lock down. Our youth are just having a very different experience, and we felt like we were in a position to do this very specific story and also reach the masses. We acknowledge that it’s happening and also ask: How do we survive them in a healthy way?
DEADLINE: I appreciated the conversation that happens on the tennis court, where the students have very different ideas of how to cope. Some want to move on, while others need to spend time processing. How did you shape those voices to make them feel authentic?
MARQUI JACKSON: Well, a lot of it was just trying to understand what the kids are going through and what their perspectives are, not what our perspectives were. Really trying to talk to a lot of people who had relatives HBCUs or that went to HBCUs to really get those perspectives about, how do you do this? How do you respond when something like this happens all the time, but you still have to get up every day and you can’t live your life undercover? What do you have to do in your own psychology to get through that? For some, it’s just to acknowledge that these things happen, I’m not going to let it weigh me down, I’m going to brush it off and keep moving. There’s a resilience to that. But we also wanted to speak to the [idea that] that it’s okay to let it affect you. The thing that we really want to get through in that scene and throughout Episode 4 is that you can all disagree and perceive something differently, but you’re still a unit. You’re still a family even if you have a disagreement about a shared experience.
DEADLINE: Along those lines, there’s also this very complicated discussion among another group of students about the best way response to the bomb threats. When someone suggests a larger police presence on campus, some students are against that. What were those discussions in the writers room like to shape that on-screen conversation?
CARROLL: The beauty of our show is we have a writers room that is full of writers who are very forthcoming with their own personal experiences, whether it’s in a situation exactly like this or in other situations where there has been some sort of traumatic experience. And it’s like, ‘Okay, so did the cop hurt or help that situation?’ As a community, we don’t always agree. So we wanted to make sure that across these episodes, we’re representing all the different points of view. It’s not about putting our agenda out there, but it’s about opening up the dialogue and the conversation, whether they are opinions that we agree with or not, there’ll be opinions that are had in our families, in our relationships with other people, in our writers room and [it was about] really just bringing those to the screen.
DEADLINE: We don’t see much of Cam in this episode after he receives the bomb threat call, but there’s a poignant scene at the end between him and Amara where they both cry in her office once they know they’re safe. It felt as though they were the only two who understood each other in that moment.
JACKSON: With Cam (Mitchell Edwards) getting the call and Amara (Kelly Jenrette) being the president of the university, the two of them are on the front lines of this. For Amara, her job is to console and comfort students. When the FBI agent shuts her down and shuts her out of the process, that compounded with the trauma she feels, [she is] trying to remain strong. That’s all she can do. But then once it’s all over, they get the all clear there is this release and because of where she is and because of her position, there’s not a lot of people that she can really share that with except for Cam, because he was there. He’s suffering a different kind of trauma that the others don’t and he just chooses to sit there and be with her. That is a moment where there are no words to really describe what they all have been through. So we love the beauty of just, he’s going to make sure that she is not going to be by herself as she finally lets herself feel what she feels.
DEADLINE: How is this discussion going to continue in Episode 5?
JACKSON: When we get to five, it’s about getting the help and support that you need to have to deal with [this trauma]. There’s some resiliency that just as Black people or minority people, we’re expected to have and we do have, but [we wanted to] give room and space to have the conversation because I think oftentimes when people go through traumatic events, they don’t talk about it. They just take that on in silence because they feel like they should just kind of shrug it off and move forward without talking about it and understanding that they’re not alone.
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