Lee Daniels (“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”) got to show off his love for the genre of prime-time soap operas such as ‘Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “Falcon Crest” when he created the FOX drama “Empire.” He took the back-stabbing, bed-hopping themes of those popular shows and gave them a new look through his African-American cast.
He’s taking the same approach with his latest TV venture, “Our Kind of People,” slated to launch at 8 p.m. Sept. 21 on FOX. The series, inspired by Lawrence Otis Graham’s book, “Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class,” unfolds in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, a historical stronghold where the rich and powerful Black elite have come to play for more than 50 years.
“I’m a ‘Dynasty’ fanatic. I remember, when we did ‘Empire,’ that’s what I wanted to, sort of, base it off of. Soap lives in me,” Daniels says.
Daniels teamed with writer and executive producer Karin Gist (“Grey’s Anatomy”) to create the series that follows a strong-willed, single mom as she looks to reclaim her family’s name. A big part of her plan is to make an impact with her revolutionary hair care line that highlights the innate, natural beauty of Black women.
She soon discovers a dark secret about her own mother’s past that will turn her world upside-down and shake up this community forever.
The series stars Yaya DaCosta (“Chicago Med”), Morris Chestnut (“The Resident”), Joe Morton (“Scandal”), Nadine Ellis (“Let’s Stay Together”), Lance Gross (“Hawaii 5-0”), Rhyon Nicole Brown (“Empire”), Kyle Bary (“Ginny & Georgia”) and Alana Bright.
DaCosta went directly from “Chicago Med” to “Our Kind of People.”
“There was a window opening and a question mark of whether I would stay or go. In that window, offers were coming in. And I fell in love with ‘Our Kind of People.’ This show is a dream in so many ways,” DaCosta says. “It’s so saucy. It’s so much fun, and there’s so much about my character that I felt was really important to bring to the forefront of our discussions, of our slate. We are playing with these serious themes, but we are making them so fun and exciting.
“What is the word I am looking for? Controversial, you know? Spicy.”
DaCosta also jumped at the opportunity to work again with Daniels. They worked together for the first time on his 2013 feature film “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
It is very clear that DaCosta has completely left “Chicago Med” behind and is focused on her new series. The situation with Chestnut is not so clear cut when it comes to his work on another FOX series, “The Resident.”
Chestnut had the chance to stay with that medical drama but he knew he wanted to be part of “Our Kind of People” when he read the script. It was a chance to work with Daniels that became a major factor.
He says, “I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen with “The Resident.’ I love the cast. I love everything about that show, but I do love everything about this show.
“I felt that this story of affluent, wealthy Black people who are not playing ball or in entertainment was something that the world needed to see and I wanted to be a part of it. And, so, it was a no-brainer for me to sign onto this show.”
The setting has created some interesting memories for Daniels. He recalls going to Martha’s Vineyard when he was very young and feeling out of place. Even after he grew up and became an Oscar-nominated director, Daniels continued to feel out of place with the affluent Blacks who live there.
Uncomfortable feelings aside, Daniels praises Gist for creating a unique world that has found the balance between what is culturally important right now and soapy while trying to stick to some of the historical perspectives examined so well in the book. Because the soap opera element is so big, all of the families at the center of the series are fictional.
Gist says, “The families that I’ve created in this show are just the essence of what’s in the book. It’s not necessarily based on any family. It’s the essence of Black excellence, whatever that means.
“It’s the experience of going to HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and having access and having pride. Without pointing to a specific family that gets at the world to be able to play a little bit more and have our kids just be as flawed as we want them and as complicated and messy as we want them to be. For me as a writer, it is really exciting to be able to play that world.”