A true Cinderella story, the indie digital series Giants scores another win #ForTheCulture with two Daytime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor (James Bland) and Outstanding Lead Actress (Vanessa Baden Kelly) in a Digital Daytime Drama Series. Giants, which is produced by James Bland Productions, executive produced by Jussie Smollett (FOX’s “Empire”), and streams via ColorCreative.TV on Issa Rae’s (HBO’s “Insecure”) YouTube Channel, is the only independently produced and distributed contender in the category: all the other nominees are backed by major streaming platforms, including Amazon and Netflix.
Bland (USA’s “Unsolved”), who created the series, and Baden Kelley (“Kenan & Kel,” “Gullah Gullah Island,” and “Rosewood”), who is also a staff writer for the second season, are both first-time nominees and arguably the underdogs in their respective categories. Their characters in Giants are reflective of a new era of content in which people of color are taking ownership of their stories and millennials are leading the charge.
Season one of Giants, which debuted in January of 2017, quickly earned praise for uniquely capturing the black millennial experience and tackling stigmatized issues including mental health, sexual identity, religious uncertainty, and unconventional means of economic survival. Momentum from the first season propelled Giants into a bigger and bolder second season with a larger budget, higher production quality, and a horde of talented guest stars. Since premiering in February, season two has boosted episode views to over 2 million on YouTube and the series’ fan base continues to grow exponentially.
Giants’ rise to mainstream awards recognition represents a major victory for independent content creators, particularly those of color. Bland, determined to pursue acting despite his substantial height and lack of formal training, was consistently typecast as a basketball player. He realized that the role of a multi-layered character would not be given to him, so he would have to create it.
“I created Giants to give myself and other creatives of color opportunities that weren’t being afforded to us by Hollywood,” said Bland. “We’re a team of underdogs that have pooled our resources, time, and talent to create an amazing series that has had profound impact on so many people. To receive two Daytime Emmy Award nominations is an incredible acknowledgment and triumph for us all.”
Baden Kelly is herself among those who have been greatly affected by Giants. A successful child actress since age 4, Baden Kelly returned to an unwelcoming Hollywood following a 10-year hiatus. After six years without booking a role, she considered quitting acting for good.
“Just when I was convinced that there was no longer a place for me in Hollywood, James wrote Giants and created the role of Journee specifically for me,” said Baden Kelly. “He always saw my talent even at times when I couldn’t and he knew that if the right role came along, the rest of the world would see it too.”
Baden Kelly’s portrayal of Journee, a quirky, manic-depressive, has truly resonated with viewers. The success of a viral video, in which Baden Kelly discusses her character and mental health, is demonstrative of Giants’ role in initiating important dialogue within the black community. The video has garnered more than three million Facebook views to-date.
Millennials everywhere can identify with Bland’s character Malachi, who has chosen to forge his own path – one that is atypical – and must constantly confront his inner giants while in pursuit of his purpose. Among Malachi’s admirers is veteran actor J. August Richards (ABC’s “Kevin Probably Saves the World,” “Agents of SHIELD”), who is a guest star, writer, and director on season two.
“Malachi is such a complex character,” said Richards. “He is manipulative at times, but he is ultimately true to his friends and is willing to stick his neck out for people. He has a lot of heart, is deeply spiritual, and although he gets lost sometimes, we are always rooting for him to find his way. We want to see this character win … both onscreen and off.”
The Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Award winners will be announced at the ceremony on April 27 in Pasadena, Calif.