Raising the Bar: Richmond native lands work on Netflix show

Raising the Bar: Richmond native lands work on Netflix show
Emlyn Crenshaw (Source: Capital News Source)

By Aliviah Jones

Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Plenty of unemployed college graduates pack up and head for sunny California. Richmond native Emlyn Crenshaw, 26, moved to Los Angeles in 2016 after graduating from Georgetown University. A year later -- one that Crenshaw described as “a yearlong panic attack” -- her connections helped her land a job as a showrunner assistant on the Netflix series “Raising Dion,” which debuted in October.

“When you come from somewhere like Virginia, working in TV seems like pie in the sky,” Crenshaw said. “It doesn't seem like a real job that you can actually have.”

“Raising Dion” was created by showrunner Carol Barbee who adapted the series from the original superhero comic of the same name by Dennis Liu.

The sci-fi show tells the story of a widowed mom trying to solve the mystery surrounding her husband’s death and her young son's emerging superpowers, while keeping his extraordinary gifts under wraps. Michael B. Jordan, known for his film roles in “Fruitvale Station,” “Creed” and “Black Panther,” is the executive producer of the show and plays Dion’s father.

Dion is played by Ja’Siah Young in his first lead role, while his mom is portrayed by Alisha Wainwright.

The series highlights diversity and representation as Dion explores his newly discovered powers. He is struggling to fit in at a new Atlanta elementary school where he is one of two black students, while also grappling with the loss of his father. He learns emotional strength from his best friend, Esperanza, who is in a wheelchair, and his mentor Pat, played by Jason Ritter.

Crenshaw was involved in all stages of production, especially in the writer’s room where she pitched ideas to writers, something Crenshaw said was rare for someone at an assistant level position.

“It was a really special show on screen but also behind the screen,” Crenshaw said. “It was really diverse and thoughtful.”

Before moving to LA, Crenshaw was heavily involved in Richmond’s theater scene. She attended the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, also known as SPARC. After years of performing on stage, Crenshaw began to learn more about production and said she gravitated toward the behind the scenes aspect.

While attending Georgetown University, Crenshaw was involved with comedy and the improv team but said she never saw it as a viable career. She didn’t study theater, but majored in justice and peace studies, and minored in sociology.

After her freshman year, Crenshaw and four of her high school friends started the Richmond-based Full Circle Theater Project. The production company formed as a way for the friend group to work on creative projects together again after going to different schools across the country.

The five-member group produced the play “From Up Here” with Crenshaw directing and casting the show. The group did everything from fundraising, marketing and stage design to costume design, casting and stage direction.

“I think that experience always stuck out in my head as like, in a perfect world I would be doing something like this,” Crenshaw said.

Allison Gilman, who grew up performing at SPARC with Crenshaw, said the theater company was a culmination of their years performing together.

“We grew up doing theater together, but we were never the ones producing it and doing all of the behind the scenes stuff,” Gilman said.

Crenshaw began working for a nonprofit after graduating from Georgetown University but realized she yearned to do something more creative, so she moved to LA to fully pursue a career in television writing.

“It still took me another eight months, maybe, not to be terrified of saying that I wanted to write,” Crenshaw said.

The cast and crew of “Raising Dion” are still waiting to hear about a second season. All nine episodes of season one are available for streaming on Netflix.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.