Tia Mowry-Hardrict says she has two favorite things about working on her new Netflix sitcom Family Reunion. The first is the Electric Slide. The second is getting to work with actual icons like Richard Roundtree and Loretta Devine. And in a full-circle moment, just as Mowry learns from Roundtree and Devine, she gets to pass on her own child star wisdom to the young actors who play her kids on the show. But back to the Electric Slide.
In the show's pilot, Mowry's character Coco, along with her husband Moz (Anthany Alabi), and their five children, head from their home in Seattle to Georgia for a family reunion, where they stay with Moz's parents Grandpa (Roundtree) and M'dear (Devine). The generational divide as well as conflicting lifestyles and parenting techniques cause tensions. But in the end, they all come together at the family cook out, where everyone joins in on the Electric Slide.
"A lot of the time at family reunions we have dance offs, like the Electric Slide," Mowry says, "And what’s so fun about the show is not only are we in front of the camera doing the Electric Slide, we’re behind the scenes as a crew doing the Electric Slide and just having lots and lots of fun."
But in addition to simply having a blast, Mowry says she learned important lessons about her own power, especially working as a black woman in Hollywood, from her on-screen mother-in-law, Devine. One thing that blew Mowry away was how if Devine didn't agree with a certain direction or something in the script, she would say so. "She was able to say what she felt with humility but yet confidence at the same time, and it’s just so beautiful to watch. So I’ve learned that from her ... that you do have a voice and don’t be afraid to use it."
For almost her entire career, Mowry explains, she never quite realized she could speak up about a character or acting choice in this way. And in case you'd forgotten, Mowry's career has been in this industry for almost her entire life — most '90s kids will remember the iconic sitcom she starred in alongside her twin sister Tamera, Sister, Sister.
Being a black woman in this world has value. I am valuable.
Mowry says that as she's grown into an adult, now working on her fourth television show, she's "really starting to learn that being black in this world matters." She says, "Being a black woman in this world has value. I am valuable." This understanding was not always the case. One instance in particular that comes to mind is when she and Tamera were young, they wanted to be on the cover of a popular teen magazine. But they didn't get it. "And we were told specifically it was because they thought it wouldn’t sell because we were black. And for a while that was embedded in my head."
Mowry says not seeing her image being celebrated, represented, or considered beautiful lead her to feel insecure for many years. It is only now, having worked so hard to get where she is, that she is learning that she is, in fact, valuable. "And Loretta also showed me that just by working with her. That what you have to say and your opinion about what you want to do is valuable."
In Family Reunion, black family and black culture are celebrated in a very specific and intentional way. In just the pilot, being black is addressed with cultural touchstones like the Electric Slide at the family reunion, but also with teachable moments. The show touches on colorism when the younger kids tease oldest daughter Jade (Talia Jackson) about her light skin tone. In another moment Jade is chastised by her peers for not knowing who Malcolm X or the Black Panthers were.
One cultural aspect that Mowry says resonated with her is church. "The thing about black culture is whether you wanted to go to church or not, it was like, ‘You’re going to church on Sunday,’" she says. "My mother and my grandmother ... they were very, very, very traditional when it came to values and morals that stemmed from the bible. But then I grew up and I had my own values." Much like her character Coco, Mowry understands and values the traditional morality she grew up with, but is also a modern woman who respects all religions and a variety of moral philosophies.
Whatever conflict this caused in Mowry's life personally, it definitely causes a little disconnect for her character in the show — Grandpa and M'Dear are not always here for Coco's "new age" parenting. But in the end, Family Reunion is about family, and it's about love.
"This show is such a fun family show, and I feel like it embodies the spirit of a lot of classic family shows like Sister Sister, like Family Matters," Mowry says, with characters and plot lines that resonate with all generations. "I would like the takeaway to be that people would start a conversation. Because a lot of the storylines that we talk about are meaningful storylines that need to be talked about within a family unit."
But once you've gotten the hard stuff out of the way, everyone should make some time for dancing.