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Celebrating Black History Month: New TV series, All American: Homecoming to spotlight diversity in tennis
"Never before has there been a show about female collegiate tennis players, let alone women of color," says the show's technical advisor Sierra Ellison.
Published Feb 21, 2022
Something interesting happened when the pandemic struck the sports world. While basketball, football and many other sports suffered, tennis actually thrived for obvious reasons. It was one of the few games that could be played while practicing social distance and because of this—more people picked up a racquet for the first time. Two years later, the game is still trending and this can be seen through film. The CW's newest TV series, All American: Homecoming which debuts Monday is capitalizing on the movement, but giving its own colorful and diverse twist.
Geffri Maya who plays Simone Hicks first became a season regular on All American—which follows high school football player Spencer (Daniel Ezrra). She will move from a side character to the center of the new spin-off and there will be a whole lot of tennis to look forward to.
After having a baby and giving it up for adoption near the end of All American's third season, she has overcome immense challenges already but even more await her at Bringston University, a fictional Historical Black College/University. After taking some time away from the game due to her pregnancy, she's ready to get back on the court and go all in. Hicks' goal is to become a member of Bringston's tennis team and to do big things at the college level and beyond.
It's a storyline that will not only give viewers a closer look at what collegiate athletes go through, but it will showcase Black women creating space in what is still a predominately white sport. It's a storyline that is the first of its kind for a TV series and will undoubtedly evoke inspiration for Black girls and people of color across the board. It's also a reflection of how far tennis has come. Venus and Serena opened the doors to more diversity in the game and four-time major champion Naomi Osaka, US Open winner Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Frances Tiafoe and Coco Gauff are a testament to that. The CW's latest series continues to build on this narrative.
"I love the story behind the HBCU and showing the Black excellence that not only goes on in the academic world, but in the sports world," All American: Homecoming stunt coordinator Justin Skinner tells Baseline. "Seeing the talent that has come to Homecoming has been amazing. One of our producers said 'it's the best thing ever, it's like a bunch of Serena and Venus' running around, playing at this high level.'
"It speaks volumes to Venus and Serena's impact on the sport. It's been an incredible season to see all the talent we have."
All American: Homecoming's technical advisor, Sierra Ellison who first picked up a racquet when she was just two-years-old and competed alongside her sister Roxanne for San Diego State, and even at the professional level says, "it's been a dream come true" to be a part of a show like this. The shows' underlying message really hits home for Ellison and also brings her back to the Williams sisters legacy.
"I didn’t realize as a young child, that these amazing women had overcome not only the stigma of being a woman in sports, but women of color in sports," Ellison says. "As a young child, I didn’t think about how the majority of women on the pro tour, looked just like me. And how these two sisters were pivotal in paving the way for more women to follow in their footsteps.
"I wanted to work on this show because it is giving time and attention to not only female tennis players but women and men of color in high-level sports and education."
What contributes to making this show so special is not just the storyline, but the incredibly talented group of individuals such as Skinner and Ellison who are making it as authentic as possible. There have certainly been tennis films in the past that don't do the sport justice, but because of the substantial expertise behind the camera, along with Maya and other actors dedicating time to learn the sport, the show promises to deliver superb on-court action.
"At the end of the day it comes down to our athletes that we have casted. We can say we need this or that, but it comes down to their talent and we rely on them and that's what makes it look real and authentic," Skinner explains. Lead actor, Maya knew nothing about the game before the show got picked up, but ever since it did she has done her due diligence. Practicing at least three times a week and always eager to train even in-between her scenes. The Homecoming star has come a long way since filming the pilot last April.
"If you would have seen Geffri the first day we saw her put a tennis racquet in her hand to where she is now, that shows how hard she's worked. It speaks volumes to her because a lot of actors will go 'just let my double do it.'" Geffri has a phenomenal double no question, but she's also worked to look the part and that speaks to her competitive spirit. She wants to do that character justice and she's putting in the work, so now it's like wait we can use that forehand and we can use a couple of shots of her."
Maya's work ethic and dedication to nailing her role as a tennis player is indeed above the rest. According to Ellison, one of her favorite moments on the set this season is when Maya took her skills to the next level.
"Geffri had to run into a splits while chasing (and hitting) a tennis ball. We had to practice a bunch of times and some of the pictures I got had us dying of laughter. In the end, she killed it like she always does," Ellison recalls.
Below is that exact shot executed phenomenally well by Maya as Ellison captures behind-the-scenes gold.
The show will not be short of drama both on and off the court, as Maya navigates the college world and the team's tough-as-nails captain Thea Mays, played by Camille Hyde. Both Skinner and Ellison are excited for the universe to see all the love and hard work that they and the fellow cast and crew poured into the show. Skinner says,"watching this story, I think people are going to be very motivated by this."
It's thrilling to not only see more tennis being played in Hollywood, but it's great to see the sport still scoring winners in 2022.
"This show is one-of-a-kind," Ellison states. "Never before has there been a show about female collegiate tennis players, let alone, women of color. That in itself is so inspiring. In 2022, we can still accomplish things that have never been accomplished. The path may be long, but you can do it if you just keep moving forward."
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