“He has an actual copy of the Declaration of Independence so I knew it was something he cared about,” she said. Producer Kenya Barris (“black-ish”) was at the same party and, like Nee, had recently started working at Netflix.
Nee suggested doing something like “Schoolhouse Rock! , The classic 1970s series that taught young viewers how grammar works (“Conjunction Junction”) and how bills became laws (“I’m just a bill”). But this time it would be music that you could play on the radio or in a club – “something about civics that teens would click on,” as Nee recently described.
Nee invited Barack and Michelle Obama, who have their own Netflix contracts, to join her, Barris and others as executive producers. (Lear had no official involvement, but he is thanked in the credits.) It was the former president’s suggestion to raise the age of the target audience to children between the ages of 14 and 18 – those crucial years, according to the producers, when teens choose to become politically active or to become jaded and disengaged.
The call has gone out to directors and musicians. For the launch episode, Nee reached out to the Grammy-winning R&B singer HER, who co-wrote “Change,” a soulful number promoting “active citizenship.” Ramsey was invited to direct the episode, which features a young black woman helping out at a soup kitchen, joining the protests and registering new voters.
“It was early 2020, and what happened later confirmed that what we were doing really reflected where we are now,” Ramsey said. “You had George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests, the ‘mad in a good way’ campaign to register more voters who ended up overthrowing the Senate. You could see a whole generation of people awakening to this idea of participating in civic life.
Shortly thereafter, artist Mabel Ye received a call to direct an episode on the First Amendment featuring “Speak Your Mind,” a song written and sung by Carlile. A 20-year-old former CalArts student at the time, Ye was not much older than the project’s target audience.