Watching an episode of Random Acts of Flyness, Terence Nance’s new late-night series on HBO, feels a bit like doing acid and having a conversation about race, gender, and politics with an equally high friend. Even if you’re not stoned out of your gourd, the show is a wild ride. Its vibe is akin to scrolling through Instagram and stumbling across trippy, viral memes. Pieced together in non-linear segments, the show, which premieres August 3, feels like a cross between Tim and Eric-era Adult Swim and Donald Glover’s Atlanta.
What makes Random Acts of Flyness exciting is how it represents people of color on screen. The series strives to depict the realities of life for young black Americans, and it weaves the experiences of women, queer people, and an array of black identities into its patchwork narrative. With shows like Blackish, Queen Sugar, and Dear White People populating the media landscape, more artists of color, particularly black men and women, are being recognized both in front of and behind the camera. But though he said the rise of black creators felt inevitable, Nance also thinks this is just the tip of the iceberg.
VICE spoke with Nance via phone to learn more about his new show and to discuss representation in black entertainment in Hollywood.
VICE: Random Acts of Flyness doesn’t feel like a typical HBO show. How did you sell the network on such an unconventional idea?
Terence Nance: I didn’t have too much awareness of how conventional or unconventional it would be for them specifically. But I did think this show would’ve been difficult to verbally pitch. So we just showed them half the pilot, essentially clips of what half the pilot would look like as segments with interstitials. Being able to show it, as opposed to pitch it verbally or articulate it in a script, was really important. I think if you’re making a narrative show, it could be easier to [represent] on the page. But we just showed and didn’t tell to make that happen.
Where did your inspiration for this show come from?
I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to do it. I think [it] came a long time ago when I was in college, making music and doing short films and stuff like that in school. I wrote the initial treatment for [the show] around then. It became an attempt to mine what was going on in our sphere at the moment.
You’re a New Yorker but originally from Texas. How has your background then and now shaped the stories you tell?
I don’t think of myself as a storyteller, because I think that’s coded with a type of formalism that I’m never really thinking about. I’m from a certain culture, a Southern Black community—people who are church-going but also artists, very progressive, radically political, and socially conscious, and not necessarily what you would expect from a puritanical kind of church culture. I think that stuff bleeds into the work, but not in a way that’s as direct as, “Oh, I want to tell this character’s story.” It’s more like tonalities, colors, moods, and things like that. Rhythms that find their way in.
Representation on screen is important for marginalized communities to feel seen and heard, in a society that often overlooks their stories or experiences. Who is the primary audience for your show, and what do you want them to take away from watching it?
I think while we’re making it, we have ourselves in mind—for the younger versions of ourselves more specifically. Your first audience [is] the person in the mirror, in a certain way. And I think that’s probably evident in the viewing experience. But I don’t think there’s a primary type of person or demographic who would enjoy or engage with it more or less than anybody else.
There are a few shows on TV now that people of color describe as “FUBU,” or “For Us, By Us,” like Blackish, Pose, Atlanta and Insecure. Where do you see your series fitting into this category of black entertainment created by black entertainers?
I think there’s an exponentially growing cache of contemporary explorations of African Diaspora culture in movies and TV. And I think that kind of exponential growth is related to the amount of time and energy spent oppressing us in media.
To [paraphrase] Bradford Young, “Anytime you intentionally marginalize black people, it’s just a matter of time before we’ll take it over.” By representation, I think he said there’s like only a matter of time before we will stop attempting to play in their arena—be the black character on Friends or whatever it is. Let’s just go take it over.
Your show uses humor to address serious and controversial issues. How do you think comedy helps people cope with heavy topics like racism and police brutality?
I don’t think it helps people cope necessarily. I think the better word for it is another shade of the emotional landscape of reacting to Trump trauma. It’s a pretty standard human response to find the absurdity in anything and also find the macro perspective. I think it’s a natural way of being in trauma, especially trauma that doesn’t seem like it will be relieved anytime soon.
Without giving away any spoilers, what are some things that viewers should expect from the show?
They should not have any expectations. They should expect to challenge themselves to not have any expectations.
What was the most fun or surprising part of working on this series? Were there any wild moments from the production?
Many, but it’s hard to say one that wouldn’t incriminate people. It was a spiritual experience for sure. Things kept happening, we kept getting signs that we were on the right track, and I think that was necessary, because it was so difficult from an energy, time, and resources perspective.
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