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Exclusive Interview: Tia Mowry on the authenticity of her Netflix comedy Family Reunion

Tia Mowry and Anthony Alabi
Tia Mowry and Anthony Alabi, Pic credit: Netflix

Season 2 of Family Reunion begins with Cocoa (Tia Mowry) and Moz (Anthony Alabi) McKellan and their four children – Jade (Talia Jackson), Shaka (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), Mazzi (Cameron J. Wright), and Ami (Jordyn Raya James) — heading to Columbus, GA, for the McKellan family reunion.

After spending some time with Moz’s parents – M’Dear (Loretta Devine) and Grandpa (Richard Roundtree), the couple surprises their kids with the news that they will only be returning to their home in Seattle, Washington, long enough to sell their house and pack up their bags, because they are moving to the South. Of course, it is a learning experience as the family adjusts to living with the old-fashioned M’Dear and their new city’s Southern ways.

But for Mowry, it is a comfortable fit. Of all the roles she’s played, Cocoa is the closest to who she is in real life, mainly because their parenting styles align.  

“I feel like she’s non-traditional,” Mowry tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview. “The show is all about traditional versus non-traditional. You have M’Dear, who’s very traditional – spare the rod and spoil the child — whereas I’m not like that at all. I’m very free-spirited. I can definitely say that I’m the fun, cool mom. Sometimes it does get me into trouble, but I’m very lighthearted. I don’t take myself too seriously when it comes to having fun with my kids and that’s definitely Cocoa. She’s also very nurturing and that’s who I am as a person in real life.”

But the contrast between M’Dear and Cocoa also provides the writers and producers an opportunity to make it a teaching moment as well, especially when it comes to issues such as spanking, which is something that Mowry, who studied growth and child development as a psych major at Pepperdine University for years, has definite opinions about.

“I learned that there are other options,” she says. “I’m all about taking my time and talking to my children about what they might have done and what they can do differently. I never like to even say the words that was bad or that was wrong. I’m very sensitive when it comes to certain things like that. Also, I think it’s because I was spanked growing up as a child. Not that it was bad or anything, but I just wanted to try a new approach. Spanking wasn’t something I feel comfortable doing.”

Family Reunion is that rare show that has an all-Black writer’s room, who pull from their own life stories, which, for Mowry, gives the show an authentic feel as the writers are able to use their voices to relate stories from their own lives.

An example of this is a scene that got cut, but which sticks with Mowry, in which her TV brother-in-law was getting a line up haircut on his porch.

“That’s what happens in African American families,” Mowry says. “So, you would have had to have lived through that to understand that and to write that. So, I think that’s what makes this show such a great show is because it’s real. These are real things that are happening within our culture.”

Mowry also talks about how Family Reunion is an homage to the family programming on TV in the 90s, other teachable moments, and the non-showbiz business that she started.

Anthony Alabi, Tia Mowry, Richard Roundtree, Loretta Devine, Jordyn Raya James,  and Talia Jackson
Anthony Alabi, Tia Mowry, Richard Roundtree, Loretta Devine, Jordyn Raya James, and Talia Jackson Pic credit: Netflix

This reminds me actually more of a 90s comedy. As someone who starred in a 90s comedy, would you say that there is an homage to that era with this?

Tia Mowry: Totally. When I came into acting in the 90s with Sister, Sister, there was definitely a lot of family programming that was on television. You had Full House, Family Matters, Step By Step, Sister, Sister. You had all of these incredible television shows where the focal point was all about family and fun, and that’s what this show definitely is. It reminds me so much of my days on Sister, Sister. Not only the show in general but behind the scenes, I’m working with such an incredible cast of young, talented geniuses.

It took me down memory lane of “Wow, this is what it was like acting as a child, having to know your lines, multitasking with schoolwork, and then being seen as a professional,” right? This is a job. So, all in all, the whole experience has been really rewarding.

We were talking about teachable moments earlier. Another one that caught my attention was the discussion about Blacks come in all shades as the daughter on the show is much lighter than the rest of the family.

Tia Mowry: I think that’s a very important topic to discuss, especially within the African American community. Growing up, my mother used to tell me that Black people have all beautiful, different shades, and every single one of those shades are just as beautiful and as important. I feel that’s what makes this show so special is that we aren’t afraid to talk about sensitive topics such as that that happen within our own community and how do we tackle such topics.

M&C: Speaking of sensitive subjects, one of the things that surprised me as a white person watching this show was the scene in the church where this woman was overtaken by the Holy Ghost. And I thought, “Should they have that in there? Is that too much of a stereotype?” What’s your take on that?

Tia Mowry: No, it’s not stereotypical at all. I mean, that is what I grew up with. And that’s what I’m saying. I think that what’s so amazing about this show is they aren’t afraid to depict the reality of what Black culture is. And I believe a lot of families who grew up within an African American household will understand exactly what took place when going to church every Sunday, whether you want to or not, was a part of your lifestyle.

And then also seeing your auntie, your mom, your cousin, or a friend catch the Holy Spirit in church, I remember that happening to me for the first time. I was around six years old. And I was like, “Whoa, what is going on?” But that’s real. That’s what happens.

M&C: You were a teenager when you were on Sister, Sister, and a lot of actors don’t make the transition to adult. I’m sure you have thoughts about the longevity of your career, and now you’re on a show with Richard Roundtree and Loretta Devine, is that inspirational for you?

Tia Mowry: Oh my gosh, it is so inspiring. You know, I enjoy going to work every single day on this television show. Not only to be able to play Cocoa, who’s very much like me so that I’m just so excited to see what she’s going to do next, but also be able to act with legends. Richard Roundtree is a legend. Loretta Devine is a legend, so just being in their presence is unbelievable. It’s very rewarding for me.

I’m constantly learning. They may not know this, but I’m watching every move that they make, even how they handle things behind the scenes. Longevity is a desire of mine. And what I’ve learned from both of them is to continue to just have fun. Loretta and Richard come to work; they don’t take things too seriously. They enjoy themselves. Of course, they work really, really hard and they’re very good at their craft, but they don’t take life like crazy serious. I think there’s a lesson in that to just have fun and continue to be your authentic self, and you’ll go far.

M&C: Your daughter’s too young, but your son is old enough. Has he seen the show? And what does he think?

Tia Mowry: Yes, he has. He’s definitely seen this show. This is one of his favorite shows and Sister, Sister is one of his favorite shows. He binged watched that and he’s binged watched the first season of Family Reunion several times, and then he also loves Family Matters. So as you can see, there’s some sort of correlation there. It’s just family fun programming.

Television shows like this are needed, especially in today’s climate. It’s really important to have a show that the whole family can watch. We have different generations within, and I think that’s also what makes the show very special is my mother can watch this show, I can watch this show, and my children can watch the show.

M&C: We were talking about longevity for acting, but you’ve also started a business called Anser, which is a health product. How did that come about?

Tia Mowry:  I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur ever since I knew what the word entrepreneur meant. I learned what that meant when I was in high school. I’ve always felt like I had a voice. I’ve always felt like I wanted to be a leader, and that’s what an entrepreneur is.

So, Anser basically came about with my own personal health and wellness journey. I’ve been very open that I was diagnosed with endometriosis. After undergoing several surgeries, my doctor pointed me in the right direction. She was like, “Look, if you don’t want to continue to have surgeries, and if you want to have children one day, you’re going to have to change your lifestyle,” which meant, eating healthier, exercising, meditating, and taking supplements. Long story short, I did that.

And within a year, I was able to have my beautiful son Cree, and now I have a beautiful daughter Cairo, so I wanted to encourage people to do the same thing, which was to take charge of their health and their wellness. So, lo and behold, I came out with a supplement line called Anser, and it’s a beautiful community. We’ve started out with a women’s multi, a beauty formula, and a prenatal. Now we have over 20 different supplements, and I’m so excited to say that we will be expanding. Some cool, exciting news will be coming out soon. So, look out for that.

The new season of Family Reunion is currently streaming on Netflix.

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