“He has an actual copy of the Declaration of Independence, so I knew this was something he cared about,” she said. The 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 about how grammar works (“Conjunction Junction”) and how bills became laws (“I’m Just a Bill”). But this time, it would be with music you could play on the radio, or in a club — “a thing about civics that teenagers would actually click on,” as Nee recently described it.
Nee invited Barack and Michelle Obama, who have their own Netflix deal, 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 kids aged 14 to 18 — those crucial years, the producers felt, when teens either choose to become politically active or become jaded and disengaged.
The call went out to directors and musicians. For the leadoff episode, Nee reached out to the Grammy-winning R&B singer H.E.R., who co-wrote “Change,” a smooth soul number encouraging “active citizenship.” Ramsey was asked to direct the episode, which features a young Black woman helping out in a soup line, joining protests and registering new voters.
“This was early 2020, and what happened later confirmed that what we were making really reflected where we are now,” Ramsey said. “You had George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests, the ‘crazy in a good way’ drive to get more voters registered that ended up flipping the Senate. You could see a whole generation of people waking up to this idea of participation in civic life.”
Soon after, the artist Mabel Ye got a call to direct an episode about 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 wasn’t that much older than the project’s target audience.