Akili McDowell stars in the new series "David Makes Man" that's moving audiences and shining a light on the childhood of many young black boys growing up in the U.S.
In the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) series, McDowell portrays David, a young, extremely gifted black boy living in the projects in South Florida who struggles between balancing life caring for his family and achieving success in school as his ticket out.
The show's creator, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney, known for 2016 drama "Moonlight," has said that the show is based off of elements of his own childhood.
With McCraney behind the project -- and Oprah Winfrey and Michael B. Jordan acting as executive producers -- McDowell, 16, said approaching the series was initially "nerve wracking."
"There is a standard with OWN -- when it involves Oprah Winfrey and Michael B. Jordan you know the criteria you're gonna get," he told "Good Morning America." "You know you have to step up, it's gonna be something good, so with that on my mind I just went in every day hardworking ... and just putting my best foot forward."
He said he immediately felt a connection to his character, David, who he describes as, "a quiet, smart, intelligent young man."
"With him growing up with a single parent mother, and me as well growing up with a single parent mother, I know the weight that's on his shoulders," McDowell said.
"Where he feels like he has to do everything to really just be there for his mother, to be the backbone that she needs, and he just wants to succeed not only in school but with his family as well," he continued. "I know what it is to carry that burden."
"He's a genius -- a prodigy, of course," McDowell added. "And he gets bused 20 miles just to go to school to be told he's special from people."
The actor says in the show his character differs from many of the people he is growing up with. "He has to choose between the streets that raised him or a higher form of education where people tell him there's a better place in life," he said.
McDowell said it was a privilege to take part in acting out McCraney's vision.
"I feel like I can speak for the dangers of the world, like Tarell, the younger versions of Tarell in myself," he said of his character.
As executive producer, McCraney was extremely hands on when they were shooting, McDowell shared.
"I was able to go to Tarell ... ask him ‘how did he feel during this situation' -- mixing it with how I feel about some similar situations that I could relate to -- really just coming together and feeling it internally so it would come off on the camera really genuinely and as unique as it did," he said.
The young actor also said he feels the story focuses on a subject that's not portrayed enough in film and TV.
"The story of the journey of a young black, strong man and what he has to do while growing up in the inner city -- it's really untold," McDowell shared. "If it is told it's not being told to its justice, not fully being told."
McDowell believes this series allows viewers to "live the life of him day in and out," and develop more of an understanding.
He said he was continually impressed in the way McCraney portrayed this concept in the series. "Tarell's mind is crazy and unique," he said. "I think it's honestly one of a kind. I've never met a writer like Tarell."
The people behind the camera, including the directors, camera operators and more, also "had a helping hand in how this came out so beautifully and poetically," McDowell said.
The young actor said he's grateful to have gotten to know Winfrey and for the opportunity to get some advice from Jordan through the project.
"He is amazing," McDowell said of the "Black Panther" actor. "He gave me a lot of wisdom throughout the process -- talking about really just staying true to who I am ... really just continue to work hard."
McDowell believes the show is "really getting the ball into the black community."
"You don't even necessarily have to be black to watch this show. You might have had that same struggle even though you're not black or from the inner city," McDowell said. "You could've went through that same struggle, that same hard life, and I think you should watch to see how relatable it was and know you're not alone in this."