Good television in 2021 is diverse storytelling done right and thoughtful casting done properly — and Good Trouble continues to deliver on both. The Freeform show has brought Gen Z audiences honest depictions of workplace struggles for women of colour, issues with diversity programs run by white folx, passion for Black liberation, healthy bisexual male representation, and so much more in its three seasons.
Since Good Trouble premiered back in 2019, Zuri Adele has been gifting us the constantly evolving bartender and activist character Malika Williams. Malika is passionate, emotionally complex and an active social justice warrior — and it turns out Adele isn’t so different from her character. We caught up with the talented actress and talked Malika’s passion for liberation, poly representation, the key to great chemistry and so much more.
These are two things Adele identifies most with Malika — and one thing the actress doesn’t identify with at all about her character
“I really identify with her passion for liberation — like her passion for collective liberation — starting with Black liberation as a means of collective liberation,” Adele says. “And her passion for chosen family — like her need for that.”
Malika is a former foster kid with a complicated family life — a victim of a broken system, coming from a Black family pulled apart by the racist institutions of America. Adele thinks that these experiences contribute to her character’s need for a sense of home and family — and cultivates it for herself through friendships. In real life, Adele is an only child raised by two parents who raised her across the country from each other. Without brothers and sisters by blood, she considers her closest friends to be her family.
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“I know that my wanting to cultivate that chosen family — like within my friendships — my friends are really my family,” she says. “My closest friends are who I consider my siblings. So, yeah, those are the two where I really, really relate to Malika and get to learn from her because she does both of those from different perspectives than I do.”
And one thing she doesn’t relate to at all?
“I really like my solitude,” Adele says with a laugh, recognizing that Malika enjoys being around those close to her. “And as much as I love my community, I need my own place to retreat to at all times.”
In case you’ve been sleeping on Good Trouble, the main characters of the show live together in an intentional community they call the Coterie. They have individual lofts on top of a theatre in downtown Los Angeles, but share a kitchen and a bathroom.
Exploring poly representation on Good Trouble as a Black woman
In general, poly representation is lacking in mainstream television. When it does make its way into a plotline, it tends to lean on stereotypes and harmful myths, and is mostly brought to life by white actors in scripted and reality TV shows like Unicornland, Big Love, Polyamory: Married & Dating and others. Because the aim is seldom to provide an accurate reflection of the poly community, the bit of representation we do end up seeing on-screen often shapes the way audiences understand this model of relationship.
Enter Good Trouble: Malika explores being in a polyamorous relationship in the third season and the effort is so authentic and honest, it may even inspire the consideration of non-monogamy for some critical-thinking viewers. Adele did her research, consulted with real-life poly friends and trusted the show’s writers to help with her creative process of bringing this important representation to the television screen.
“My process with exploring polyamory through Malika authentically has really been underscored by my community — my friends who practice — I’m not someone who has practiced polyamory,” Adele says, revealing that she leaned on her friends, particularly couple friends who are primary couples, to help best understand how to approach the storyline responsibly. “And what I love is that all of those people are people of colour. And so I feel like I’m getting to say something — because there are interviews where I hear about polyamory and a lot of those have been white couples and white structures.”
Adele lovingly received lessons on polyamory from her Black and Asian-American friends — and discovered that while their relationship framework fell under poly, they just didn’t use the label. In both communities, she found that while poly relationships were happening within them, the couples weren’t especially public about it.
In addition to primary sources of lived experiences, Adele also listened to podcasts and continues to learn more every day. Of course, when it comes to providing good representation, it’s helpful that she trusts the writers.
“Luckily, we also have some people who practice polyamory join the writers room in season three,” she says. “So, they’ve been consulting. That’s been really helpful because I know the writing feels authentic — and if I have questions, I know I have people I can ask.”
Good chemistry on television comes down to good casting and responsible writing
Fans loved the chemistry between Malika and Isaac (Sarunas J. Jackson), Dyonte (Marcus Emanuel Mitchell), and anyone she shares scenes with, let’s be honest. Of course, the actress attributes the overall exceptional chemistry of the cast to, well, the casting. This was also true for The Fosters — of which Good Trouble is a spinoff.
“We are just really such good friends. I think that there’s something about the show — about The Fosters underscoring Good Trouble — that like the crew is such a family because they were this well-oiled machine for six seasons before,” Adele says. “The producers know how to choose the right energy that goes well with other people’s energy — because we don’t always do chemistry reads and we just end up gelling.”
According to Adele, the folx on set are tight — they pray together, hang out together and spend a lot of time getting to know each other and having difficult conversations.
This is a character I really needed to see on TV and like, I get to play the character that I needed to see on TV.
“We create really safe spaces to explore with one another and like, you know, speak up on our boundaries when and if we need to, especially when we’re being, like, physically intimate and exploring lifestyles that we may not have in our own personal lives,” she says.
It also helps that the actors on the show trust the writers. “I mean, they pay so much attention. I can tell they paid so much attention to me,” she explains. “They pay a lot of attention to my style. I mean, the designers, I could tell that before I started. But after I booked Good Trouble and before I started working on Good Trouble, I’m like, they must have been looking at my Instagram stories in my apartment because when I got to set Malika’s room looked just like my studio apartment.”
In case you’re wondering, not only did they have poly writers in the writers’ room — but when working on the Black Lives Matter storyline, they brought in Patrisse Cullors, a boots-on-the-ground activist and the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Dr. Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter. Both real-life people appeared on the show too — providing authenticity behind the camera and on our screens.
Adele understands representation matters. She’s happy to bring it to life for mass audiences. In fact, she shared an emotional moment from the night before our interview.
“This is a character I really needed to see on TV and like, I get to play the character that I needed to see on TV. That’s a lot to process in a beautiful way. I mean, a woman of my skin tone with locs and exploring her queerness soon. I don’t know if that’s something we can say right now, but like all of it,” she shares. “Just seeing myself kiss a woman on screen and see myself practice polyamory on screen and be loved on two and desired by all of these beautiful people in a way that I didn’t always see. Women who look like me be loved on or desired by beautiful people on TV, you know, and in a lead role — just with so much power and then also activism and like pursuing that in an authentic way in Los Angeles, like with Black Lives Matter L.A.”
Good Trouble will restore your faith in good television. New episodes of Good Trouble air Wednesdays at 10 P.M. ET on ABC Spark. The season three finale will air on Wednesday, September 8 at 10 P.M. ET.