This article originally appeared in Volume I, Issue II of StoryBoard Memphis Quarterly in March 2022.
The main character, 10-year-old Grill is a lyricist. His best friend is a girl who lives next door to him, 10-year-old Puffs. She also is a lyricist. In addition, aged 10, Witz is a DJ who lives on their street. A younger member of their group is 8-year-old hype man Retro. Finally, there is Hakeem, the businessman of the group. With red hair and freckles, Hakeem has an appearance that is different from the other kids in crew.
These aren’t characters in a live action TV show; they’re cartoon characters. And they are part of a new show coming from the mind of Darlene Newman.
Orange Mound Bound is about a 5th grade musician and his friends who have formed a music group. They are working through struggles while trying to reach superstardom fame. The show itself will help encourage self-esteem in its viewers.
Darlene Newman is the creator of this animated show. With nine episodes, the first episode is planned for release in August.
In addition to the main characters Grill, Puffs, Witz, Retro, and Hakeem, there will be three bullies for the crew to deal with. At age 11, the lead bully will go by her last name for now: Jenkins. The muscle of their group is Big E, who is big like his name. The last bully is Chester, also known as Cheetos. He is scrawny with a big rectangle shaped head. Wanting to be accepted by someone, this leads him to being caught up with the bullies.
Set in the historic Black Orange Mound neighborhood, the five friends are facing 5th grade issues, and dealing with their family life as well as the bullies. They are trying to reach fame, if they could just make it through this eventful year of school.
Set in present-day Orange Mound, it has an old school feel of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop. And those born around those eras will be in for a treat of nostalgia from childhood. Viewers will get this in the show’s music, from the character Retro, who speaks using old slang, and from Grill’s dad, who is stuck in the ’90s, still rockin’ his high top fade.
Viewers will see the characters deal with the internet and social media, merging the two worlds of now and then.
While cartoons like Charlie Brown featured only the kids’ worlds, without parent or teacher involvement, Darlene will present adult characters in the cartoon, helping to develop bonds and furthering open communications on shared life experiences between adults and children.
“We are making certain that we see each of these parents, characters, or caregivers, and they are going to interact and see those characters’ influence on the children,” said Newman.
Educational elements on Historic Orange Mound will be voiced in episodes. Viewers can look forward to created discussion questions that will tie in to each show. The use of historical awareness as a learning tool will help foster neighborhood appreciation, build knowledge in viewers, and create idea exchanges between adults and children in homes, classrooms, and schools.
Topics will be fun and funny, but at the same time they will be serious. Considering how kids have so much access to current and past events good or bad in this information age, danger can come about in ignoring their awareness.
(Author’s note: I am a parent of two young boys. We often have to drive a route that leads us past the murder scene of rapper Young Dolph. My oldest sees the mural there and asks questions. There is no point in sugar-coating the situation. We have to let him know what is going on to help control his information intake.)
“I want to be intentional about bringing in-your-face topics,” Newman said. She hopes to bring about deeper conversations from each matter after viewing.
As for production, voice actor recordings are complete for two episodes. Newman is hopeful to receive enough financial backing to deliver all episodes one after the other.
Newman is a professional artist of the past 20 years. She obtained a dual degree in Art and Business Management from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. She went on to obtain her Master’s Degree in Illustration from The Savannah College of Art and Design.
Since then she has been working full time with art. She has been busy painting murals, illustrating children’s books, and putting on art shows. Animation for her is a new medium.
“A lot of my work is spiritually based, (designed) to really talk about getting through the trials, tribulations, and challenges of life,” said Newman.
Describing herself as a spiritual person, she hopes that her work will inspire and give those who view it motivation to go further in a positive way.
From her creation, one would think that Newman is a native of Orange Mound. However, she grew up and lives in the Cherokee neighborhood, just one street over from the border of the Mound. “Orange Mound adjacent,” as she affectionately called it.
Being so ‘adjacent,’ Newman went to school with natives of Orange Mound. Her grade school and Sunday school teachers were from the Mound. These interactions allowed her to see the pride of those from the historic neighborhood.
Orange Mound Bound will be available to watch on Amazon Fire TV Stick, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku. Newman is thankful to Memphis Centric owner and creator Octavia Young, her supportive family, and to all who have shown support.
“This is my calling. I am going to do this forever even if no one sees it,” Newman added.
Alexandria Moore is a healthcare professional and freelance writer. She is a native Memphian. She graduated from the University of Memphis with a major in psychology and a minor in English.