“To the outside world, I’m still considered ‘an up-and-comer, underrated, she’s the one to watch,’ but I got used to it because, as Black women, our accomplishments are often muted,” Marsai Martin shared as she accepted her Rising Star honor at the BET Her Awards in Atlanta earlier this month.
It’s getting harder and harder to mute the young star’s accomplishments. At just 18, Marsai Martin, who is best known as Diane from black-ish, already flipped the child actor script back in 2019 with the film Little, where she became the youngest person to executive produce a major Hollywood film. For the first-ever scripted TV show, Saturdays, from her Genius Productions shingle, she’s extended her Black girl power to three young Black actresses.
The family show revolves around Paris and her besties Simone and Ari whose happy place is Saturdays—a local skating rink. For Paris, Saturdays is much more than the rink where they hang out; it also holds huge personal significance. There, her parents Deb and Cal Johnson, who now own their own baking business, are skating royalty. Her brother London is even the DJ.
In developing the show with Roll Bounce writer and Saturdays showrunner Norman Vance Jr. for the Disney Channel, Marsai Martin admits she took some cues from her own life. “As kids, you don’t go [skating] by yourself; you go with your friends, and it’s a weekend activity,” she says. “I have two best friends myself, and [skating] is something we always do.”
Bringing out the personalities of the three friends wasn’t just the right move, she says, but the most entertaining thing to do. “Having that core group felt fun to watch. They have their three different personalities, and they just constantly help each other on and off the roller rink.”
That sisterhood and individualism are qualities Saturdays stars Danielle Jalade, Daria Johns, and Peyton Basnight—who play Paris, Simone, and Ari—embrace.
“Paris has a lot of energy. She has a big heart and a warm personality,” says Jalade, introducing her character. “She has a lot of ideas, a lot of big grand ideas that sometimes aren't the best thing to do, but she has the support of her friends, and they do them anyway. But it comes from a really great place in her heart.”
“She's a leader. She’s got her We-B-Girlz crew and her family, and she has the biggest love for skating. She lives, breathes, and eats skating, especially on Saturdays. And she really just wants to carry on her family's legacy at Saturdays, and continue to grow in it.”
“Simone, I would describe her as earthy,” says Johns, who also plays Savannah on The Upshaws. “She has her Bohemian chic moments. She plays the mother of the group, I would say, like she really centers them and grounds them. She’s a girl of few words but, when she says something, it’s the truth. She is absolutely true to her core, and she is bold and unique. And she loves her edges, her little baby hair,” she adds.
“Ari is definitely the fashionable one. She loves fashion and loves her clothes,” chimes in Basnight. “Ari is in her own little world every single second of the day. I think Ari is very kind, and she’s found this sense of friendship that I don’t really think that she had before in Paris and Simone, and that’s something that we’ll get to explore throughout the series.”
Because Golden Brooks— who plays Paris’ mom Deb on the show—has a teenage daughter of her own in real life, she knows that parents are also watching these shows with their kids. That’s what makes Saturdays more than just a show for her.
“Paris represents so many young girls out there [who can say] ‘Oh, I can wear my hair like that, I can dress like that, oh, my mom and dad act like that,’” explains the Girlfriends star. “That's important. When you see yourself, you feel your power, you feel seen.”
One-time child actor Gooding—Paris’ dad Cal on the show—says, “I wasn’t even thinking about producing one of these shows. For her to realize at an early age that there’s more than just in-front of the camera, I think she’s a hero for girls her age, not just a color, just kids period.”
“I’m happy with where we are right now,” Marsai Martin says of the industry. “I think we constantly have shows that are for us and by us that articulate something so real. My main thing is keeping it that way and not have it be a trend.”
With Saturdays, Martin says she wanted to “create something that was timeless, that everybody can look back and say it was a great show that touched a lot of people’s lives, and they can remember the characters and those moments just like we remember our Martins or our Family Matters or our black-ishes.”
Catch ‘Saturdays’ Friday nights on the Disney Channel and on Disney+.