The ‘Tom Swift’ series reimagines the classic book character as a black gay billionaire

Bold and innovative inventor Tom Swift — whose eponymous series of books has appeared more than a century ago — is reimagined as a black gay billionaire in a new sci-fi drama that expands Nancy Drew’s universe on The CW.

Co-created by “Nancy Drew” makers Noga Landau and Melinda Hsu Taylor and “Empire” writer Cameron Johnson, “Tom Swift,” which premieres on Tuesday, follows a demonic inventor (played by Tian Richards) who is described as a young “with resources” Unlimited and Unimaginable Wealth” who would kill many men to be with him – or to be with them. But after his father, Barton (Christopher B. Duncan), mysteriously disappears on a historic trip to Saturn, Tom begins a quest to uncover the truth at any cost, finding himself fighting to defeat an Illuminati-wide gang bent on stopping him.

From the start, Landau was determined to create a subversive approach to the original “Tom Swift” novels, which chronicled the adventures of a white, blond, blue-eyed inventor and He had a history of portraying black communities badly.

When you Google the covers of old ‘Tom Swift’ books, no matter who’s on screen, just imagine the exact opposite of that guy – and that our Tom Swift,” Landau told NBC News. “I think the inspiration for that came from the fact that I had never seen a black gay billionaire on screen before, and I really wanted to see one.”

The reimagined “Tom Swift” takes place two years after Tom debuted in the “Nancy Drew” episode last May, and made a public appearance of his father after he posted a photo of him kissing another man. The first episode of the new series also introduces Tom’s mother, Lauren (April Parker Jones), urging him to take his place in the elite black community after his father’s disappearance; Tom’s best friend for life, Zinzi (Ashley Murray), who challenges and challenges the wayward innovator; And Tom’s AI assistant, Barclay (voiced by Levar Burton), whose vision and ruthless love have been constant throughout his life.

As a black and openly gay executive producer, Johnson said he wanted to create a show that not only felt authentic in his own experiences but also felt universal.

“The way I like to think of it is, I like ‘Clueless.’” Johnson said, “I am neither Jewish nor blonde and did not grow up in L.A., but I understood this world after watching this movie, and I felt part of it.” “In the same way, [with] Tom Swift, you may be neither gay, nor black, nor billionaire…but you might realize the family dynamics, the pressure we go through from our parents, and the bonds we build with the people we trust – only against the backdrop of a truly authentic black world. “

To realize this vision, the creators realized that they needed a charismatic actor to take the lead role. Johnson said they settled on Richards, who showed the perfect blend of “intelligence, heart, humor and charm” in his test. “Tom is on a journey of maturity, he can be kind of mean and he can say very harsh things. But for some reason, when Tian says them, they seem like the best compliment I have ever received.”

Hsu Taylor said Richards, who is also an openly eccentric, brought a “sort of brightness” to the character. “You can’t help but love it when you’re around it in person, but I think it shows on screen.”

Richards has not lost the responsibility of playing one of the first major black gay characters on network television, whose acting credits include the films “Burden”, “Dumplin” and “A Bad Moms Christmas”. “I never imagined someone like me would live in that space,” he said, “but to see now that reflection is the greatest thing I could ever imagine.”

Once he landed the role in January 2021, Richards immersed himself in books about space and artificial intelligence and visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and space museums in Houston and Washington, DC, to better understand aspects of technology and science fiction. After “Tom Swift” was officially selected for a full season last August, Richards traveled to Florida to watch the launch of Inspiration 4 in Cape Canaveral.

“For Tom to be an outsider, gay, black, wealthy and dark-skinned — all things we never see look like that — that’s very important for people to see,” he said, “especially in STEM.

Johnson said it was important for the creative team not to tell a typical story. Instead, he said, “We wanted to say something that we felt was beautiful black.” “And the version of that is everybody knows you’re gay, you said you’re gay, but they just ignore you and keep trying to push you in a different direction. So after Tom was able to shake off the shackles of that, he was able to gain his own little skills.”

Tom’s confidence in his sexuality is most evident in the unapologetic sex scene in the pilot, which was just one of the many ways the creators wanted to reintroduce the character to audiences. “What I especially love about The CW is that, in their writing, they never asked us to call him back or make him any less gay,” Johnson said. “They were like, ‘No, no, no, go for it. Tom should definitely do it. I’d like to get people to watch this show and feel like we’ve only given them a part of what it’s like to be an outsider, and we don’t.'”

By doing so, Landau said, the book created an “epic multi-season” love story between Tom and another black man. “This would be really exciting and beautiful and new, because I don’t know we’d see a romance like this with a black gay guy in the middle of it as the subject of cravings, especially one set in a realm of science fiction.”

Johnson added, “What I think is so powerful about this love story is that everyone involved is another beautiful black person. I think there are a lot of shows that put black people as romantic interests in an attempt to sort of make their white characters more interesting, And the decision we made was, “How can we all argue on Twitter about which one ‘of so many handsome, thoughtful, and sexy suitors will win Tom’s heart?”

Richards said it’s crucial to tell stories that celebrate black joy and freedom. He said, “We have so many beautiful moments of being free and rich and luxurious and limitless in our creativity and expression… and we’ll see a part of the black community that isn’t often talked about – the 1 percent.”

“I think we’ve seen little versions of it before, but a lot of the time, our success has to do with, ‘If you’re rich, do you win the lottery? Do you play basketball? Do you rap?’ It’s like, ‘No, we work in technology and we have a lot of people who They share, “This is the space we need to see ourselves in the most, and I’m glad we’ll get a chance to do that with our show.”

“Tom Swift” premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on The CW.