A family reunion in Columbus, Georgia a few years ago gave DeLoatch the idea for Family Reunion. “My goal was to do something that everybody in a family would be able to enjoy and feel like was for them,” DeLoatch explained.
Family Reunion boasts something that most other shows on American television can’t–an all-Black writers room. This isn’t exactly the first time that DeLoatch, a graduate of American University, has worked in an all-Black writer’s room, but according to her, this is a different experience. “There was a series I did on TV One called Here We Go Again, but that was a room of I think it was like, four or five of us [Black writers]. So this is a much bigger scale.”
The makeup of Family Reunion’s writers room happened almost by accident. “It wasn’t really something I originally set out to do,” DeLoatch said, “Because I’ve never really been allowed to do that. But then somebody asked about the makeup of the writers room. One of the Netflix execs said there would be white writers but another said, ‘No, this is going to be an all-Black writers room.’ So then I was like, ‘I like that idea!’” DeLoatch went on to say, “I thought it was interesting because historically, that’s not encouraged, or it’s actively prevented. So I thought it would be interesting to have an African-American writers room that weaves together the tapestry of all our experiences.”
DeLoatch feels that the authenticity of television programs are definitely impacted by who is in the writers room and the culture they’re from. She pulled from her own personal experience to make the point. “Take Family Matters for example,” she began. “I love the show and loved the writing staff. I came very late there. That show was what it was when I came into the mix. That show was a show that had a Black cast, but it wasn’t a Black show. It didn’t necessarily have a Black point of view or deal with Black storylines. It was loved, but there was a perception in the community about it not really being a Black show.”
DeLoatch desperately wanted to bring the experience of the Black southern family culture to the screen. “Most of us are, at the most two generations, and a lot of us are one generation away from the south in terms of how we live and there’s great diversity in it. I just really wanted to highlight some of the similarities and common experiences that make somebody start laughing and going, you know, my mom does that all the time!”
On the characters and storyline, DeLoatch said, “Richard Roundtree, who plays the grandfather, is a minister of a small Baptist church. The character of Moses McKellen, who became a football player, was raised in the church but got away from the way he was raised. Cocoa, the Tia character is a free spirit who was raised in Los Angeles. She is very spiritual but she’s someone who will take from Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Kabala, she’s not all about Christianity. Moses and his wife relocate from Seattle to live in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia and provide their kids with a truer sense of their culture.”
Family Reunion is genuinely funny. The casting of Loretta Devine (M’Dear), Richard Roundtree (Jebediah), and Tia Mowry-Hardrict (Cocoa) was a stroke of genius. In addition, Anthony Alabi as Cocoa’s husband Moses “Moz” McKellen, legendary Telma Hopkins (Maybelle), and Warren Burke (Daniel) round out the talented cast.
The decades of combined experience in front of the camera pays off big time here. The cast was able to create the same family dynamic reflected on Family Reunion, in real life. “Working with them on the set was such a pleasure,” DeLoatch said. The cast had regular prayer circles and dance breaks. “We would literally do our Family Reunion electric slide; everybody cast and crew–during breaks in taping, if we had an audience that day. We would get up and have a good time! It really became a family behind the scenes. People cried at the taping of the last show. We enjoyed each other and we didn’t want to see it come to an end.”
Though it hearkens back to the multi-camera comedies of ABC’s TGIF from back in the day, Family Reunion has a depth in both the writing and comic timing that the bulk of those sitcoms lacked, their addictive charm notwithstanding. Also, if you haven’t heard Loretta Devine chortle “Okurrr!” Cardi-B style, as she does in Family Reunion, what are you even doing with your life?
Family Reunion premieres July 10 on Netflix.