With Black-ish on its way out, Scribner is using his own production company to create the Hollywood he wants to see.
“It’s cool to be a nerd now,” begins Marcus Scribner, moments after we exchange pleasantries over Zoom. To prove his point, he tells me that he’s currently working his way through The Inheritance Cycle book series, and beams as he holds up his ear-marked copy of Eragon. “But I’ve always been into that stuff even when it was uncool.” Speaking of his love for anime, sci-fi, and high fantasy, he continues, “I’ve watched so much of this content and it’s always really exciting to me, and I’ve always wondered why there aren’t more Black-led stories like this.”
We were gathered, I assumed, to talk about his long career as the intelligent-but-socially-inept Andre Jr. on ABC’s Black-ish (which is currently in its final season), the weight of representation, and growing up on the set of a major television show.
But before we do, Marcus tells me about the future — specifically, his fantasies of what it could mean to be a person of color in that future. With that question in the back of his mind, he decided to start a production company, Scribner Productions, which, as he says, has “the aim of putting more young Black faces into stories that I enjoy, like high fantasy secret agent type stuff. … Because I feel like we have a lot of historical content about the Black community, which is great because obviously we need to know our history and some beautiful works have come out of it. But I'm kind of taking the approach of, ‘Why can't we be the superheroes? Why can't we have our own high fantasy stories?’”
In Marcus’s telling, the future – his future – is built around fantastical stories (and where his credits range from lead actor to executive producer). But his ability to build that future would have been unimaginable were it not for the years he spent growing up in front of millions of viewers, every week, 30 minutes at a time.
Black-ish was an instant success for ABC (which, you may not recall, spent much of the 2010s absolutely desperate for successful comedy other than Modern Family), quickly changing Marcus’ life at the young age of 14. Over the following eight seasons, the show racked up dozens of awards and nominations, including a staggering 19 Emmy nominations for its cast and creatives. The television landscape has changed dramatically since the show premiered — partially due to the series’ success — but Black-ish presented a vision of Black familyhood that hadn’t been explored on network television since Family Matters or The Cosby Show.
Growing up in the wake of this, intimidating as it was at times, was a smooth process for Marcus, a factor he attributes to the supportive environment on set. But there were still growing pains. “At first it felt like a big weight on my shoulders,” he says. “But I also didn't really understand the magnitude of what we were doing.” Bringing the conversation back to his ambitions for the future — something he does many times — he continues, “A lot of the projects that I look for now are informed by the people that I was surrounded with growing up on [Black-ish]. So now I want everything I do to have some kind of message, meaning or purpose behind it.”
Marcus, now 22, is part of a new generation of young people of color in Hollywood who can speak openly about representation and diversity without fear of major repercussions (usually, at least). It’s a privilege that he appreciates, and sometimes fears, but ultimately takes for granted, a gift he credits to the show. “Black-ish inspired a lot of us who were actors on it to branch out and fight for what we believe in,” he says. This is easy to believe: His costars on the show, from Yara Shahidi to Jennifer Lewis, are some of the most outspoken actors in the industry. The show’s creator, Kenya Barris, even went head-to-head with ABC over the “political” content of one of his episodes.
But ultimately, as an actor, the greatest gift is knowing that you helped someone feel seen for one of the first times in your medium. “It's pretty cool when people come up to you and they tell you like, ‘Hey, Andre Jr reminds me of my nephew or my son or my cousin or my brother.’” He is giddy at the thought. “Just knowing that there are people out there who were able to look at the work that we did and glean some importance and significance out of it and connect to it. That's kind of just…why we do it. What other purpose would there be to creating art?”
Marcus describes acting as “a second nature kind of thing.” He began acting classes at age 7, which, at the time, was “just kind of a hobby thing” that his parents took him to. Realizing he had a natural gift, his grandmother soon began to take him to auditions as well. He wasn’t a child actor for whom acting consumed every waking moment of his life — he’s quick to tell me that he had ample time to “enjoy normal life, play video games and other kid stuff” — but he discovered his passion for the craft very early. “So I would miss school to do it and go on weekends.” Within the next year, he was taking three-hour acting classes every weekend.
Like most child stars, Marcus had a short path to success: By age 10, he landed his first credited role on Castle, followed by appearances on New Girl and TBS’s The Wedding Band. This, however, didn’t protect him from the struggles of imposter syndrome, the isolation of coming of age on TV sets instead of around other people his age, or the disorientation of learning how to be comfortable with himself when constantly thrown into new surroundings. “Crazy things happen when you don’t give up,” he tells me. And then, turning his head as if he were doing a direct-to-camera (in this case, speaking directly to you, reader), he adds, “Don’t give up on that dream. Don’t give up on yourself.”
Marcus is young, sure, but one immediately gets the sense that he has the mental and artistic grounding to support the growth of a long creative career. He has just wrapped filming for an upcoming film, Along for the Ride, and, in addition to exploring his production projects, he’s attached to other unannounced projects as well. He strikes a professorial tone as we sign off, telling me, “Remember: Never think you’ve reached the peak of where you can go. There’s always more.”