Diaspora

Jean Elie, Mike Gauyo Talk New Series Send Help, Exploring the Haitian American Experience Onscreen – The Root

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At a time where diverse voices and storytelling are continuing to gain momentum in Hollywood, ALLBLK’s newest dramedy, Send Help, from Insecure alums Jean Elie and Mike Gauyo, is carving out a lane of its own by bringing the Haitian American experience to the small screen.
Co-created by Elie and Gauyo, the series centers around Fritz Jean-Baptiste (Elie), a first-generation Haitian American actor, who is on top of the world since landing a starring role on fictional hit TV show, This Can’t Be Us. At the same time, however, he’s also reeling from a recent tragedy, all while navigating the responsibility of being the sole support system for his incredibly demanding Haitian family. Things seemed manageable for awhile, or at least, that’s the case until Fritz receives the news of his shows’ cancellation and must subsequently figure out his feelings of imposter syndrome, his place in Hollywood community, and his high maintenance family.
The premise, while loosely based off Elie’s real life transition into the industry, was a major connecting point for both he and writer and co-creator Mike Gauyo, as the two are both first-gen Haitian American creatives (they also share the same birthday which is equal parts WILD and affirming at the same time). It also provided both with men an opportunity to see themselves represented onscreen in a way they hadn’t before, all while largely flexing their creative muscles that had undoubtably been put on display so brilliantly on the hit HBO, Issa Rae-led show for the last several years.
The Root recently sat down with Elie and Gauyo over Zoom where they discussed the importance of telling this fresh story, what they hope audiences take away from the series and how they hope their respective careers evolve going forward.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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The Root: What was the impetus behind Send Help, and how does it feel putting your collective stamps on this new story?
Jean Elie: It’s something I’ve been trying to do for a long time. Just creating a show loosely based off my life and things of that nature. But there was never really the right timing. And then when Insecure happened and Mike and I connected, and we found out we were twins. We were like, ‘Oh, cool! Let’s just make this thing happen.’ We got the opportunity to start working on it together and we started pulling all-nighters. Like, this is the show. To be working with your best friend and creating and telling stories. And also being first generation Haitian Americans making it happen.
It was only right to be able tell this story, especially considering the fact that we go through these things. What was also amazing for us is, it’s the first of its kind—the story of a first generation Haitian American in Hollywood, I believe. And we’re doing it.
Mike Gauyo: It’s been great. The show is loosely based off Jean’s life, so it’s semi-autobiographical. And for me, one of the most important things was really servicing the story, coming on and really providing a framework for how we wanted to tell it, while also being the most respectful as possible about Jean’s path and what he’s gone through and how important this is for him. It was important for us to treat this with a lot of care aside from just creating the best, most entertaining story. We deal with mental health, Black male mental health, family, trauma, friendships and the comedy that ensues in certain cases when it comes to your friends. It’s very much a slice-of-life story about our main character Fritz, who’s going through life and we’re really proud of the project.
TR: What was your favorite part of bringing this show to life? 
JE: My favorite part was seeing the cast that we were able to bring together. The cast just really elevated the story. We were trying to use people we worked with before and some scheduling conflicts, things of that nature, got in the way. But the new cast we were able to bring on really elevated it and brought something new and unique to the story as well as their take on the characters we were able to draft up and come up with in the writer’s room. So this new cast and the way they all interacted with one another and the way that it felt like a family, it felt like a friendship. It felt like that strong bond that everybody had with their friends. That was probably one of the best parts of this whole creation.
MG: In line with that is the crew. One thing that was really important for Jean and I was having people from different walks of life who were apart of the crew and were also immigrants. Sharing other immigrant types of stories were really important to us. Having music from different cultures was really important to us because we love that its’ based in LA. We love that it’s LA, we love that it’s the culture of being Black in LA. But we wanted to also explore what it means to be immigrant and Black in LA or an immigrant Black person. So for the crew, with how diverse they are in terms of where they come from, was great and one of the best parts of working on the show.
TR: How do you want viewers to feel going into the show and then forecasting to the season finale?
MG: I would say going into this, I want audiences to give this a fresh start. This is not Ahmal, this is not an extension story of Insecure. This is a new story, this is a new life. This is a new person, new character, new adventure that we’re wanting them to go on. So we don’t necessarily want them to attach a huge connection to Insecure, but really allow this to live on its own, be its own thing and be open the journey we’re about to embark on with them. And by the end of it, they’ll have a really good idea of where we’re going with the series and what we’re wanting to do and where we’re wanting to take this character.
And it’ll feel familiar, it’ll feel like someone who’s apart of their family. It’ll feel like something that they may have gone through themselves or know someone who may have gone through something similar. We want them to feel a sense of a universal, emotional empathy to what our character’s are going through and what they may be experiencing themselves.
TR: Now that Insecure has wrapped, there’s been a lot of talk about next chapters and evolutions for those involved. When you think about your personal evolutions—specifically as it related to your respective production banners, Bassett House Pictures and Black Boy Writes Mediawhat do hope the next chapter looks like for you both?
JE: It looks development deals. It looks like reaching for the person that’s sitting next to you. It looks like pulling people up to the table that we’ve created and set a foundation for. It looks like a community of up-and-coming creatives who are now writing their own ticket and cashing their own checks. We have a series of events happening soon during our revamp of Bassett House Pictures which is designed to elevate and also bring out new voices of up-and-coming Black and Brown creatives and members of the LGBTQ community who don’t necessarily have the platform that Black Boy Writes and Bassett House Pictures are literally championing and working towards.
MG: For me, it looks like purpose driven-content. What are you trying to say? What is your message? What do you wanna do? What do you wanna put out into the world? As well as entertaining them, right? But what are you tackling and who are you highlighting? What marginalized groups are you highlighting? Jean mentioned Black Boy Writes and the mentorship initiative that we have and one thing that’s been really important to us and one thing that through watching Issa that’s been important to her—is bringing people up. So I’ve learned to kind of mirror that and just wanting to mirror that and putting together a mentorship program that really amplifies talented, Black writers and give them a pathway toward success. We’re in the second year of the program and it’s going great and we hope it remains as a permanent fixture in the industry.
Send Help, starring Elie, Catfish Jean, Courtney Taylor, Amin Joseph, Karina Bonnefil, Karen Obilom, Kimiko Singer (Emily the Criminal), and Ana Bowen, premieres Thursday, Aug. 11 only on ALLBLK.

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