The CW may have been surprised by the success of its high school drama All American, but Black viewers knew its talented cast and familiar stories would make the show a hit. And now the network is expanding that universe into a new spinoff, All American: Homecoming. The series follows Geffri Maya’s Simone as she enrolls in fictional HBCU Bringston University, where she is reunited with her aunt, Amara, who’s a professor at the university. Amara, who’s played by Kelly Jenrette, spoke with The Root about her character’s career path, celebrating HBCU life and the unapologetic Blackness of the series.
For Jenrette, it was being home in Atlanta and highlighting HBCU culture that made All American: Homecoming such an interesting choice.
“It’s about an HBCU,” she said. “That was the foundation this show was built on and the world that would encompass everything, and we haven’t seen anything like this since A Different World.”
As excited as she is to bring HBCU life back to network television, the veteran actress understands that there’s an inherent pressure that comes with portraying something so important to the Black community. To that end, Jenrette is well aware that Homecoming will be heavily scrutinized and picked apart if they get it wrong.
“Yes, of course, there is pressure to get it right, but when you operate from a space of truth, very rarely do you get it wrong,” she said. “The truth of this world, and being in Atlanta was something that our crew, and our showrunner [Nkechi Okoro Carroll] took very seriously. It’s so much of a collaborative process, we can’t help but tell the truth and represent HBCU life to its fullest.”
As viewers saw in the backdoor pilot, Amara outed the baseball team’s cheating scandal, a decision that has caused blowback on her flourishing career. In the series premiere, it was revealed that her course load has been lightened so she can avoid more scrutiny from unhappy parents and trustees. Jenrette can’t wait to see where these new challenges take her character.
“I want to see how she navigates the ups and downs in a university where she wants what’s best, and other people want what’s best as well, but those two aren’t always the same thing,” she said.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about All American: Homecoming is how unapologetically Black it is. It doesn’t just showcase HBCU life, it treats Simone’s choice to go to Bringston instead of an Ivy League as the right one for her. Jenrette hopes the series encourages a renewed sense of pride and interest in these institutions.
“Kudos to NK [Nkechi Okoro Carroll] for creating this story and being so unapologetically Black,” Jenrette said. “I was talking with my castmates about how when A Different World was out people were wearing Hillman Grad sweatshirts and saying, ‘Yeah, I wanna go to Hillman.’ I pray that is our story, too. That people will walk around with Bringston sweatshirts on and talk about how they want to go to Bringston.”
Just in case you’re wondering, All American: Homecoming isn’t all inspiring speeches and good feelings. It does have the same level of drama as All American, with secret brothers, mean girl teammates and a win or the baseball program is cut underdog story.
It’s also worth noting that while the two shows take place in the same universe, you don’t necessarily need to watch All American to enjoy All American: Homecoming; though of course, it helps.
All American: Homecoming airs Mondays at 9/8c on The CW, right after All American at 8/7c. Both series are also available on The CW app.