HBO Max recently announced a new drama series based on the life of Nissim Black: a non-Jewish black rapper turned Hasidic rapper. Black was approached by many networks, like Netflix and celebrities like Queen Latifa, who wanted to do a documentary about his life. But when director Sally Richardson, who Black grew up watching in movies, approached him with her pitch 6-7 months ago, it finally seemed like the right person.
The title of the show is based on Black’s hit single Mothaland Rebound, and will focus on life after Nissim’s move to Israel and the culture shock and transition to the new community. The show – which will be called Motherland Bounce – will be written and created by writer/comedian Moshe Kasher and produced by Salli Richardson-Whitfield who also produced Golden age.
The single it’s based on – while full of bright, happy energy – isn’t necessarily funny. It pays homage to many facets of black cultural roots while highlighting the synthesis of pride, struggle and joy of a complex self-exploring identity. It is completed with the opening of another of his music videos – the song Best friend — which features comedy, dramatized friendship, and a Coming to America vibe. The production team drew inspiration from the story as well as Black’s relationship to music, which is inseparable from his life’s journey.
Black ultimately chose to tell his story with a production team that favored a comedic lens. “Comedy is a way of telling things through a side door without being too serious,” he explains. He specifies that Motherland Bounce will be a “comedy-drama”: a scripted comedic TV show with serious moments organically interspersed with humor.
In this regard, the show will be quite different from most recent media depictions of Hasidic life. Secular media often like to tell negative stories about Orthodox Judaism and especially about people leaving an Orthodox way of life. Joy is such an important part of a healthy Hasidic life, and Motherland Bounce will not only be a place where Jewish joy shines, but also shows the world that people are not just leaving Orthodoxy, but coming to Judaism through themselves and kiss her by choice.
The show will be set in Israel, where the Black family has lived for the better part of a decade, and may even be filmed there. Nissim describes the overall theme of the story as “a fish out of water” as he explores his own reactions and experiences in joining the Hasidic community in Israel after growing up in the neighborhood. “I think it would be a great lens for people to see – in a fun way – how the outside world looks at Judaism without it being something negative,” he explains, “but from a complete lack of understanding”.
The show wouldn’t be possible without a writer who understands the community – that’s where Moshe Kasher comes in. Kasher spent summers with his father, a baal teshuva Satmar Hasid, and thus has a personal relationship with Orthodoxy. With several major network hits under his belt (he was a producer on Betty, Little America, and another period among others), Kasher’s tried-and-tested script brings the already widespread appeal of the inspirational story to life. “Moshe has a hard time writing a screenplay without swearing,” Black jokes, “but he’s getting there.” The rest of the production team has also been very respectful so far regarding Nissim’s limitations and demands in pitching and writing.
In that vein, Black also notes that he intends this show to be wholesome, kosher family entertainment. The Black family didn’t have the internet in their homes for a decade before the Covid-19 pandemic. Nissim hasn’t watched movies or TV in this long. He names comedies from his childhood, though, and points out that if you needed to swear to put on a good show, then we wouldn’t be selling box sets yet and talking about those comedies with the next generation.
He also attributes this project to his lawyer, Fred Toczek, stating that without his help this project would not be possible. Toczek is one of the entertainment industry’s top lawyers and an Orthodox Jew. With a lawyer who fully understands the halakhic and hashkafic intricacies of negotiating a long-term kosher contract, navigating mass production is much more manageable from a Torah perspective.
While the current cast is still unknown (and it’s unclear if any members of the Black family will star in it, as themselves or otherwise), Nissim is very excited about the still top-secret pilot episode and casting options. cast. There is a chance that the actors will be chosen from within the community itself, supplemented by non-Orthodox actors who can portray an Orthodox lifestyle (a la Shtissel) well.
Determined not to shy away from difficult topics, Black insists that anything resembling race and discrimination will be included as much as exists in his own life. Black explained that everything in the story will feel commensurate with his own experiences – and the positives far outweigh the negatives. It focuses on creating an entertaining story but also preserving the truth, so it intends to depict these experiences in a way that won’t reflect on the community at large.
This dilemma has already been the subject of many thoughts – “These things are going to be approached in such a fun way that I don’t think they would leave that kind of impression on people, that this is how Jews treat blacks.”
This seems to be the attitude of the production team towards the other sensitive topics associated with the show and its content: racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Orthodoxy, Israeli-Palestinian politics, and many more. others will appear, and all will be treated fairly. “Everyone says ‘there’s no such thing on television,’ but we don’t usually have a show that can change people’s lives like this,” Black notes. HBO Max seems very willing to take the initiative of depicting Black’s spiritual journey in tandem with sensitive background information, and treating it so comically that no one will truly hate anyone else.
“We are going towards a very universal funny,” he insists. It might be hard to pull off, but the hope is that the humor and connection will help the show transcend social groups. There’s so much to laugh about, and there’s also so much to learn about spirituality from the story we’ll be receiving that will be invaluable to anyone who tunes in.
If you found this content meaningful and would like to help further our mission through our Keter, Makom and Tikun branches, please consider becoming a changemaker today.