Giants: A YouTube Series That Tackles Mental Health and Masculinity in the Black Community

James Bland and Vanessa Baden (Giants)
James Bland and Vanessa Baden (Giants)

Issa Rae’s YouTube channel recently launched Giants, a new series written and directed by James Bland and starring Vanessa Baden, William Catlett and Bland himself. The series is about “three millennials determined to live life on their own terms, no matter the cost, [who] quickly learn that when life starts to kick your ass, you either lie down, or fight back.” Not only is the series directed by Bland, but it’s also executive-produced by Rae and Empire’s Jussie Smollett.


The series finale of Giants recently aired, and The Root caught up with Bland to discuss the show, as well as its future.

The Root: Can you give our readers some insight into Giants?

James Bland: Giants is a digital drama series that takes an intimate look at the lives of three friends and the giants they encounter in their lives. You have three characters on the verge of 30, and they’ve chosen unconventional paths in their lives.

Malachi just quit his job to find himself. Journee can’t keep a job because she’s manic depressive and has episodes that won’t allow her to get out of bed. And Ade made the decision to pursue an artist’s life. He’s an engineer by trade and always wanted to be a dancer. In addition, he’s learning to be true to himself and is struggling with his identity and sexuality.

TR: What types of themes will the series discuss?

JB: Mental health is a huge theme throughout the series. We put up a video on Facebook that has 2.4 million views, and Vanessa, who plays Journee, is talking about how mental illness is trivialized amongst people in the black community. We dive into homophobia, not only in the black church but also in the black family. Black masculinity is a theme, and if black men can explore sexuality without labels and judgment. Also if black men can be intimate with each other without sex being involved. Black men don’t get the freedom to express ourselves and to be vulnerable.

TR: Most people probably know you from the series First. How did you connect with Jussie Smollett?

JB: Jussie and I have been friends for a few years. We met through the acting scene in L.A. He used to take part in the table-reading series that Lena Waithe used to take part in; we were all in the black content creator, writing space in L.A. Before I launched Giants, he was able to see the process, and when I got into postproduction, he decided to step on board to help with the project. People really didn’t quite get the show. I guess it didn’t jump out at people. And I’m so grateful for Issa and Jussie being two people who saw the show’s vision.

TR: How has the reception been from the audience?

JB: It’s been so incredible. We average close to 50,000 views per episode, and it’s only been up for six weeks. It’s been a snowball effect. The best messages I’ve received are from people who’ve said, “This is my life.” People dealing with mental illness have told me that the show has given them a voice. That has been the greatest reception.


TR: When will season 2 premiere?

JB: We are actively writing season 2, and we’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign. So we’re asking viewers to help. Season 1 was funded out of pocket. When you create a digital series, it’s always in the back of your head that someone is going to come around and fund another season. But it doesn’t always work that way.


I decided that I wasn’t going to wait on my white savior. Oftentimes, studio and production companies don’t come around. I want to work towards a place of being self-sufficient and having the capabilities of producing our own content. If the content resonates, fans will show up and fund it.

TR: What can we look for in the next season?

JB: A continuation of the characters’ stories. A lot of fans want the characters to catch a break. Season 1 was about the characters facing their giants; in the next season, they’re going to fight back and catch a break.


To learn more about Giants, visit its YouTube page, as well as its Indiegogo page.

Bye, Kinja! It's been fun (occasionally).


Thotline Bling: black girl supremacy

I’ll have to check this out over the weekend. I have been thinking a lot about how mental health among black people could be addressed through art, film especially.