Web series encourages black millennials to face their ‘giants’

James Bland and Vanessa Baden Kelly star in “Giants,” a critically acclaimed digital series. CONTRIBUTED
James Bland and Vanessa Baden Kelly star in “Giants,” a critically acclaimed digital series. CONTRIBUTED

Among the hilarious trending topics and bizarre challenges on the internet is one video that tackles a serious issue — depression.

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two-minute upload, which intertwines a scene from season one of the popular web series "Giants" with dialogue about mental health, took the internet by storm one year ago, garnering more than 3 million views on Facebook.

“I’m a manic depressive. Candace, you know that. It’s an illness,” the character Journee shouted to her sister in the clip. “It’s an excuse,” Candace refuted.

The scripted drama, streamed on Issa Rae's YouTube channel and executive-produced by Jussie Smollett of Fox's "Empire," follows three friends as they struggle through anxiety, financial hardships and broken relationships. In between episodes, behind-the-scenes footage airs, and the viral one about mental illness amassed the most attention.

“We saw comments about how the storyline was saving this young lady’s life,” said the show’s producer Takara Joseph, an Atlanta native. “I think immediately after that we realized the production is bigger than us.”

Now in its second season, which debuted in February, "Giants" continues to delve into subject matters that mostly affect black millennials in particular. And people are listening. Creator James Bland, who also plays the lead Malachi, and Vanessa Baden Kelly, who portrays Journee, have both been nominated for Daytime Emmys for their roles.

We recently talked to Joseph and Bland about their work on the independent program.

How close are your real-life experiences to the plot of the show?

Bland: I would probably say too close for comfort. Luckily, the team is pretty cool and open. We're in a liberated place about our personal lives. In the writers' room, we're constantly sharing personal stories and using them to shape and mold the direction of our characters. That gives us that layer of honesty, and we can pick and choose what we want to reveal.

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Almost every character deals with mental health issues. How do you make such a heavy theme more digestible for your audience?

Bland: I'll give Vanessa Baden Kelly that credit, because she plays Journee so effortlessly. I think Vanessa's ability to be so candid, real and vulnerable on-screen really gives Journee a level of relatability that perhaps the writing alone wouldn't have given these characters. Also we're constantly pulling from what we all collectively know. Takara has shared with us her experience with therapy, so we've also used that in the show. I think it's because we've walked the walk and we've lived the things and stories we're telling on-screen.

How did your relationship with Issa Rae develop?

Bland: Issa is so dope. I met her in 2011 through a mutual friend who was looking to do a web series. We had both launched one, and we really just came together to give each other tips on how to do this whole web thing. That turned into a relationship where we would have these quarterly meetups called "We Are the Web." It was just a bunch of content creators coming together to talk everything digital. We stayed in touch and continued to be supporters of each other's work. I'm so proud of everything she's doing with "Insecure." She's using her platform to give other content creators the space to share their work, so it's really great and an honor to be on her channel.

What do you foresee for the future of “Giants”?

Joseph: When I first met James and we would talk about the goals for the show, he always said he wants as many people as possible to be exposed to his work. I think that shapes the vision. I think it's just ingrained in all of us on the team at this point. We just want as many people as possible to see this content.

What is the show’s biggest accomplishment thus far?

Joseph: I think for me the biggest accomplishment is the message we are trying to send to people. It's so familiar to those dealing with mental health and sexual identity. There are people out there that look like you who also have these struggles and come through these journeys with these characters. I'm sure you will be able to identify with one of them. This show is touching lives in ways we could not have even imagined.

WHERE TO FIND IT

“Giants,” currently in its second season, airs Wednesdays on Issa Rae’s YouTube channel.

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