Announced almost two years ago and based on the comic created by Dennis Liu, ‘Raising Dion’ has been in the works over at Netflix for quite some time. So long (and with so little news), in fact, that potential viewers began to wonder—where’s Dion? Well, the wait is over, and I am happy to say that I am, mostly, very impressed with the finished product. I was initially hesitant to watch the program upon realizing they’d replaced the female protagonist seen in the first batch of previews with the much lighter-skinned Alisha Wainwright (best known for her work on Freeform’s Shadowhunters), but despite that and a few other flaws, on the whole, the show does pull off something magical.
Set in current-day Atlanta, the show follows the story of 7-year-old Dion (Ja’Siah Young) and his widowed mother as they begin the arduous task of starting over after the loss of father and husband Mark (Michael B. Jordan), who died in a freak storm rescuing a stranger. For Nicole (Alisha Wainwright), the struggle is real and familiar to single moms all around the world as we watch her attempt to get everyone out of the door on time, make sure she’s holding down a job (with benefits!) while still getting Dion to and from school each day, and dealing with being her son’s primary emotional support as they both recover from the massive trauma of Mark’s death. If that’s not enough, Dion suddenly develops powers that run the gamut, from telekinesis to the ability to heal to teleportation and more. There’s almost nothing the boy can’t do!
However, the unveiling of Dion’s magical new powers brings about a lot of trouble as Nicole is tasked with protecting Dion not just from the everyday issues that pop up in a child’s life (asthma, school bullies) but also from mysterious people in black vans, a strange (seemingly sentient) lightning storm and revelations that Mark’s life (and death) were not exactly as aboveboard and clean-cut as they seemed.
Luckily, Nicole’s not alone. Mark’s best friend Pat (Jason Ritter), a comic aficionado and engineer who worked closely with Mark, and Nicole’s sister Kat (Jazmyn Simon) are there to help her balance the load of supernatural and everyday parenting. And still, the show manages to find time to deal with even more issues, including Dion crossing into a not-so-great space when he uses his powers to “help” a friend with disabilities (Sammi Haney’s Esmerelda), his first brush with racism (and how hard it can be to have that conversation with your child) and male entitlement to a woman’s presence, affection or love.
Despite my concerns with the casting regarding colorism, Wainwright is amazing as Nicole. She delivers a performance that I believe all viewers will find appealing and that truly resonated with me as a single mother. She is the resilient, capable, not-always-right-but-always-trying mother we all want to be. Her reactions to the situations she’s thrust into are believable, never overdone and it all works together to create a compelling character. Relative newcomer Ja’Siah Young (Billy on the Street, Nicole & O.J.) is exactly what you’d expect a 7-year-old with magic powers to be. Fearless and ready to become the next masked crusader (with a cute name to boot—“The Mind Mover”!), Dion feels raw and natural, especially when we watch him in his less super moments, dealing with school bullies and a father who has gone on too soon.
Although I loved the show, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight some problem spots as well. Perhaps the biggest is casting Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Creed) in a relatively minor role. Because Jordan’s celebrity star is of a certain calibre, viewers might tune in expecting to see more of him than we do (even though, despite being dead, Mark manages to receive a decent amount of screentime). It doesn’t help that when Jordan is on screen, he brings a vitality and charm to the show that you find yourself missing in the heavier moments.
It does take the show a bit of time to get to the big reveal, and when it does finally burst onto the scene, it’s almost smack-yourself-in-the-face obvious. There are also parts of Nicole’s personal life (outside of Dion) that might feel disjointed to viewers who are, for example, not parents. Nicole is a dancer and there are times when we see her steal moments to herself to fall into the embrace of the stage, which is understandable as a parent. She’s a mother who has found this piece of time to carve out for herself, where she doesn’t have to be “Mom.” For people who aren’t parents, guardians or caretakers to dependents, this bit might seem especially disjointed and even unnecessary, as it contributes nothing to the overall plot.
Given all of that, how does Raising Dion hold up to other shows? Admirably well. It’s a masterpiece of what it looks like to create a show truly centred in diversity, from the lived experiences of Dion and Nicole to those of their neighbours and the contrast between Dion’s life and his classmates. It’s easy to see this show as something parents and kids can bond over on weekends while looking for something for movie night and in a world of reboots and remakes it was refreshing to see something new and innovative. I’ve also never felt more present in a show I’ve watched than in this moment. Watching the show and seeing a pillow in Dion’s room or a backpack that my son also has, seeing Nicole struggle to do what’s best for her son against all the odds and watching her steal her small moments of self was delightful. Raising Dion shows viewers that a single, Black mom is just as superpowered as her son, and I think that’s pretty damn cool.
All nine episodes of Raising Dion premiere October 4th, 2019 on Netflix, and I can’t wait to hear what you all think.
By: April Morris-Butler
Edited By: Keshav Kant.