But Netflix’s Raising Dion aims to rewrite that familiar narrative by presenting a hero’s journey from a whole new perspective – that of a hero’s mom, struggling to understand her son’s powers and protect him from a world that may not accept him.
It’s fair to say that parents don’t always fare well in superhero tales – and indeed, when we meet the precocious, six-year-old Dion, he and his mother, Nicole, are mourning the loss of Dion’s father, Mark, who died under mysterious circumstances. But Dion still has the benefit of having his tenacious mom in his corner – so when he starts manifesting superpowers, it’s a challenge they face together.
Showrunner Carol Barbee tells IGN that she approached the series as “a love letter to moms; to parenting. Sometimes the difference between becoming a hero or becoming a villain is how you were raised. How you were loved … There’s a quote in Dennis’ original short that I just love: ‘How do you raise a superhero? First you have to be one.’ No one feels capable of raising a child, you just learn as you go. Nicole has the additional challenge of raising a kid with powers she doesn’t have and doesn’t understand. She has to keep Dion safe from the world and the world safe from Dion. She has to figure out what her son is capable of while letting him grow up. Hard for all of us to do.”
Get a first look at Raising Dion in the gallery below, featuring a selection of never-before-seen images from Season 1:
We soon learn that Dion’s abilities are unpredictable and constantly evolving – they can be as mundane as catching a bowl of cereal before it smashes on the floor, or as powerful as manipulating the elements. “Dion’s a little kid, and like all little kids, they gain skills and then lose or leave them behind as they grow,” Barbee explains. “We thought of Dion as a stem cell – he could become anything. Dion’s powers are based in electricity but his engine is his heart – emotion, pure want. It’s why candy bars follow him (he wants them!) and why he can defend his Mom against an 80-foot monster. The more Nicole understands why Dion does things, the more she can guide and help him.”
Alisha Wainwright, who plays Nicole, reveals that when Dion first starts exhibiting powers, “she’s scared. Primarily because what he can do is so unpredictable, she’s afraid he might hurt himself or others.” When we first meet her, Wainwright says, “Nicole is having one of the most hectic days of her life … she’s a single mother trying to balance life while keeping things fun. [But] no matter what happens in their lives or how crazy things get, she will always put Dion first and do everything she can to protect him.”
Dion’s father, Mark, may be dead, but he still looms large for those he left behind – from Nicole and Dion to his childhood best friend Pat (Jason Ritter) who is also Dion’s godfather. Thankfully, in addition to executive producing the show, Michael B. Jordan also plays Mark in flashbacks, which help add depth and context to the relationships that drive the show.
Check out Michael B. Jordan in his upcoming film role, Just Mercy, which earned rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival:
“Nicole and Mark were in that one-of-a-kind love, and they felt it ever since they first met,” Wainwright says. “Their relationship had struggles just like any other, but as they worked through those challenges, they grew closer together. However, Mark had a habit of keeping secrets in order to protect his family, but as the story unfolds it becomes obvious that communication could’ve been beneficial to their relationship.”
Adds Barbee, “Mark is an adventurous, fearless, intellectually curious person whose job takes him to the ends of the earth. Once he has Nicole and Dion, Mark is constantly torn between his work and his family – something a lot of parents can relate to, I’m sure. He understands that his choices have taken him away and made Nicole’s job harder and so Mark is always trying to get back to his family – to be with them, to live up to his promises to them and to protect them – even after death.”
Barbee says that Jordan was a “hands-on producer, giving notes on story and scripts. He has amazing taste in music and weighed in heavily there … It was a total pleasure working with Michael. What a great guy. And the kids went wild getting to work with Killmonger. Having been a kid actor himself, Michael mentored Ja’siah – it was wonderful to watch.”
As for the titular hero himself – Young imbues Dion with plenty of humor, sincerity, and attitude, confidently holding his own opposite his adult co-stars. Barbee reveals that during the casting process, Young was a standout from the start: “When Ja’Siah showed up, we were all in agreement that he was the one. He was very natural. He changed up the way he did the lines, which means he was listening and reacting from the heart instead of having programmed line readings that he couldn’t break out of. He also looked like a combination of Alisha Wainwright and Michael B. Jordan – lucky for him!”
You can follow Dion’s heroic rise for yourself when Raising Dion is released on Netflix worldwide on October 4. In the meantime, check out what else is new to Netflix this September: