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It takes sheer, brash technique to capture the attention of all demographics when attempting to tap into movies and television. Generally speaking, just about every demographic has some sort of network or show that caters to its specific audience whether it be through age, race or language. However, the platforms that features queer stories, let alone Black and queer voices are still in the beginning stages. Some things are still being perpetually desensitized for heterosexuals used to seeing straight relationships in most media circuits.

Regardless, there’s something to be discussed about how the Black queer culture screams for more recognition. Creators, executive producers, and co-stars Rodney Hawkins Jr. and Alscott Worrell, managed to make their YouTube web series ‘Transplants’ worthy of many discussions. A discussion we were excited to have with them.

Co-creators Rodney Hawkins Jr. (pictured left) and Alscott Worrell (pictured right) play Deon Harrison and Chad Cohen in their YouTube web series ‘Transplants’. Photo courtesy via Alchemist

The series based in Los Angeles, California follows two Black, queer friends, Chad and Deon, who want more than a 9-5 work schedule. They decide to take a risk and tap into two things they love most– cannabis and sex. While building on this business idea audiences see Chad and Deon deal with men, dating, and life’s biggest obstacle – adulting. 

Hawkins Jr. and Worrell not only showrun but also run a full-service production company, Alchemist. Launched this past year, by both Hawkins and Worrell, after seeing a lack of underrepresented communities in media. They sought to tell stories at Alchemist that challenge the status quo and mimic their experiences through a lens, aiming to tell stories hardly seen on television or  film.

In a discussion that ranges from the creation of their web series, to the lack of Black queer communal support, to what the future holds with their production company. We start with episode one of their series, “Transplants”. I won’t spoil it too much, but the first few minutes give you just enough to keep your attention for the whole series with an exhilarating sex scene with Rodney Hawkins Jr. character, Deon. Check out the link below to catch Transplants if you haven’t already.

Series Premiere of ‘Transplants’: Episode 1

Devon Townsend: In the first episode of your web series, it starts off hot and heated! What was the creative process for the first scene and how did Transplants come to fruition?

Alscott Worrell : The opening scene was a story Rodney told, that happened in real life and we were sitting at the table, and we were like “that would be a good opening for the show”. We didn’t have any idea, it was a passing comment, and then after that I texted him and I was like, “What if we made a show and it was called  LA transplants?.” We didn’t have any type of premise, but we were just like “let’s do it!” and we started writing. The more we started writing and exploring, the more it made it easier to feel out the characters. We both were very unhappy with our jobs so that kind of made its way into the plot, and while in the process of writing I got fired from my job but not the way depicted in the show. We wanted to show all these things. The sex piece is a very important plot point that comes later for the second half of the season. It was a closed set and even a lot of the rehearsals were closed for the most part. Rodney can speak more on the choreography of that scene.

Rodney Hawkins Jr.: This show is kind of like our diary that we’re showing everybody. Even though they’re different from us in many ways, you guys are watching our lives on the screen. It’s been fun to play with it and go through what these characters are going through. As far as the sex scenes, I was really nervous. This was my first sex scene. Alscott can attest that I had an anxiety attack because I was scared that [people] were going to see [me nude]. Alscott did a great job in editing it and making me feel comfortable. Honestly, sex scenes are very technical, so you don’t feel aroused and things like that. It’s literally movement as if its’ choreography when you’re dancing. So, it was comfortable, and I loved that it was a closed set and to Alscott’s point. It was important to have this because of the second half [of the season]. Everyone will understand why we put that in because it was important for us to not make what I felt to be a sexual stigma over the last 10 years about queer web shows. We didn’t want our show to fall into that category.

Alscott Worell and Rodney Hawkins Jr. founders of Alchemist production company

Townsend: While writing these characters, Chad and Deon, how much of these stories mirrored people or experiences in your own lives?

Alscott: I would say in a sense. It’s not exact of course.  We switch up– which I feel like all writers do, we pick and choose what we include and make it more dramatic for effect. I will say the cannabis and sex toy business was an afterthought  for us. In the original script, that didn’t happen until the fourth episode, so we went back and re-wrote it. Rodney and I don’t have a cannabis and sex store line in real life, but we do have a production company.  So we wanted to show people using a different business. A business that most people wouldn’t see. Similar to how it’s been for us building our production company. 

Another thing I’ll add is I feel like although our life stories are things we’re pulling from our present. Our characters are very different from us and how we handle things in real life. The way that they respond to these situations is different. Like the way [Chad’s] character is so passive with all those men, and then googly eyes for Brandon. Is not a true depiction of how I am with men, but it’s fun to explore because I have dated people like that. I’ve been in a space where I’ve dated clingy men but never been so dismissive of them. I just think it’s interesting to see how our characters respond to some of our real-life situations.

Townsend: Chad and Deon are trying to self-start “Cannabussy” in Transplants. Whereas you guys already have a business in Alchemist, a full-service production company. What made you guys take on this business venture and what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as founders? 

Rodney: It started out with me contacting Alscott on social media to do a short film and as we started to work with each other that’s when Alscott proposed starting a business together. Alscott thought we could make an impact and create community, which is the basis for Alchemist and what we want to accomplish. That has been a journey and I feel like some of the challenges would be finding people who are just as passionate as we are on this project. We found some, but to start a production company it requires a lot of work and a lot of people. We have multiple hats on during production and building the business in general and I’m sure Alscott can attest to that as well.

Alscott: I would say the biggest lesson for me is having clear systems as to understanding how you’re going to operate and what policies and procedures you’re going to hold yourself accountable to and your team. The second would be finding people– there are so many people that said after the screening they want to help, and they want to do this and that. But they don’t fully execute when they get into the work of things. It’s been a challenge to find people that help us consistently build. 

Scene from episode 3 of Transplants

Townsend: The title of the third episode of your web series is ‘Rent Party’ where you touch on the history of black community fundraising in the 1920s. There is currently a fundraiser going on to aid with ‘Transplants’ to launch the second half of Season 1. Could you give insight on how communities can do better in supporting ‘Transplants’ and stories like them? 

Alscott: I will be honest I don’t feel a lot of community from the Black gay community in this country. Even looking at our analytics, most of the people that are watching are in other countries. Our fundraiser hasn’t been doing well so I feel like engaging with the content and realizing you’re not going to see yourself in every character. One thing about being Black and gay is that we rarely get content that features us, and celebrates us, and shows the real depictions of what it’s like to be us. When we do get it, we are very critical of it, to a point where it can become detrimental, and we just don’t support. The reality is if we’re not supporting any of the stories then people are not seeing the demand for the story. Then [communities] are feeling like the stories don’t matter and then they’re not funded. I saw that with the “Noah’s Ark” reboot, where people were upset that they weren’t casting younger actors. I’m just like well [black queer men] don’t have any stories about older Black gay men and we’re going to be there soon.

Rodney: I would have to agree. We got a lot of great feedback from people congratulating us. Saying that [queer communities] are glad we created a show that I can see myself in, and now we’re on the frontline and there’s crickets. Don’t get me wrong people have supported us, and I’m very grateful for those who have, but just with the feedback we got we were expecting something totally different. We’re still going to create it regardless but it’s just showing me who was there for us during the process. This is just the beginning for us, Alscott and I are going to be Emmy winners so don’t come to us then. Right now, I feel like as the Black gay community this is when we should be banning together and uplifting creators that are getting the work done. To Alscott’s point people love to support a finished product instead of being in the trenches and willing to help. But again, Alscott and I are determined and grateful for the support we do have with Transplants.

Alscott: The key has been focusing on the people that have been supporting versus the people who aren’t.

When we talk about purpose and representation, what is the thing you want viewers to most take away when watching a web series like Transplants or any work created under the Alchemist umbrella?

Alscott: I want them to feel seen and that they can relate or that they’re learning something. I think one of the things that touched me the most when getting feedback from people who watched Transplants was how the storyline really made them motivated to find a new job or leave an unhappy situation. That’s what I want people to feel. That’s how I feel when I watch one of my favorite shows, like I’m learning something. “I May Destroy You” allowed me to really address some trauma that I had and when we create, I want people to feel.

Rodney: Growing up a lot of the shows that I liked, “Charmed” or “Angel”, were predominantly white shows so I want Alchemist to be a voice for queer or trans people to feel seen and to have shows that they can grow up on, and see themselves in the characters, and have life lessons. I feel like that’s what’s missing from my childhood. I never saw myself, but I loved these characters. I feel like we’re going to be able to have a variety for people feel inspired. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for the consideration of length and importance.

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