Disney’s New Tween Series ‘Saturdays’ Features Empowering Story About Black Female Friendship

SATURDAYS – Disney’s “Saturdays” stars BACK ROW: Jermaine Harris as London Johnson, Golden Brooks as Deb Johnson. Omar Gooding as Cal Johnson, Tim Johnson Jr. as Derek “D-Rok” Troy, FRONT ROW: Peyton Basnight as Ari Stevens, Danielle Jalade as Paris Johnson, and Daria Johns as Simone Samson. (Disney/Roger Erickson)

A quick look at what is happening in the world via any newsfeed is enough to instantly make us feel dread. For us, TV and film is about so much more than escapism, it can be a window into a world that we want to live in, and give us hope. Wanna know what brings us joy today? The Disney Channel’s brand new original series ‘Saturdays’, which premiered on March 24, and can also be viewed on Disney+.

The series revolves around 14-year-old Paris Johnson, and her best friends Simone and Ari, who hone their roller skating skills on the cool parquet floor of Saturdays, a local skating rink in Chicago. Together they form the We-B-Girlz skate crew, who are determined to show and prove that they have the hottest skate routines on the planet. This fun and empowering coming-of-age roller skating story from Marsai Martin’s production company is a beautiful portrayal of friendship, featuring 3 Black girls front and center. And this is a big deal.

In UCLA’s 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report looking at the breakdown of both on-camera and behind-the-scenes roles, researchers found that shows with diverse casts tend to draw in large and diverse audience numbers, which make sense from a cultural point of view as well as economic perspective. This is also a direct reflection, they say, “of the nation’s reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd” in 2020.

The report also shows that diversity of TV casts have improved overall, where 34.9% of broadcast, 35.8% of cable and 30.7% of digital featured majority-minority casts. Actors of color on cable TV and streamers were nearly proportionally represented — relative to the U.S. population overall — in lead roles on cable (39.6%) and digital (37.6%). 

So when you tune into an episode of ‘Saturdays’, just know you are also watching a cultural shift in on-screen portrayals, reflecting what diverse audiences want to see more of!

We had the chance to chat with the three lead actresses – Danielle Jalade who plays Paris Johnson, Daria Johns who plays Simone Samson, and Peyton Basnight who plays Ari – about the representation of authentic Black female friendships on screen, and what they hope young audiences especially will love about the show.

SATURDAYS – Disney’s “Saturdays” stars Daria Johns as Simone Samson, Danielle Jalade as Paris Johnson, and Peyton Basnight as Ari Stevens. (Disney/Roger Erickson)

Danielle Jalade

Where did your acting career begin, and what was your first big role? 

At a very young age I always knew I wanted to become an actress. I begged my mom to put me into acting classes and I attended Amazing Grace Conservatory. Years later I had my first audition to play Young Nala on “The Lion King” and I booked it. I was super excited! 

How did you land the role of Paris Johnson? 

At the end of 2020, I got the audition for Paris. After many callbacks, I finally found out at the beginning of 2021 that I booked the role of Paris Johnson. I was very happy I fell down the stairs.

What did you love most about your character? 

I love how positive Paris is. She’s always trying to make others happy and I think that is super sweet. Everyone needs a positive friend like Paris. 

‘Saturdays’ is a powerful representation of Black female friendship. What does this mean to you? 

I love how Saturdays showcases black female friendship. I have never seen a young black friendship dynamic like the We-B-Girls . I think that’s very important for other young Black girls to see. 

Can you tell us about the skate routines, and what it was like learning those? 

I already knew how to skate a little bit but I couldn’t do any cool moves before filming Saturdays. Luckily they put us into a skating camp before and while we were filming which helped me enhance my skills.

What do you hope viewers will love most about the show? 

I hope everyone loves how positive and happy the show is. I think everyone will love the dynamics between all the characters and the animation component we add to the show.

Daria Johns

Can you tell us where your acting career began, and what your first big role was? 

My acting career began when I was 6 years old back home in Chicago. I used to love watching Marsai Martin and Skai Jackson on TV and told my mom that I wanted to be on TV like them. I took a kid’s commercial acting class for 8 weeks. I booked on my first audition. It was a Build-A-Bear commercial. I started eventually booking national commercials and got my SAG card at 8 years old. When I was eight, I also got my first big role, a leading role, in the Netflix movie Nappily Ever After with Sanaa Lathan and Lynn Whitfield. That was a great experience.

Simone is the best friend of Paris and Ari. Can you tell us about your character and what you love most about her?

Simone is considered the mom of the group. She is the level headed one. Simone is earth, into crystals and throws around words like chakras and feng shui. She is a loyal friend and can’t wait to spend time at the skating rink, Saturdays. What I most love about Simone is her matter-of-factness and her style which I like to describe as bohemian chic. I also love her edges and baby hair. She has a signature heart in ner hairstyle daily.

What was it like filming the skate routines with Danielle and Peyton?

While filming the skate routines was fun, it was also hard work. We spent a lot of time together with the trainer and choreographers honing our skills. We practiced until our legs were quivering. You will be able to see the effort we put in on the show. I am proud of the work that we have done. 

Having three young Black female leads on a Disney series is a big deal. What kind of impact do you hope the show will have on other young viewers? 

It truly is a big deal. Having us as leads makes Saturdays a groundbreaking show! The impact that I hope girls who watch the show receive is that we represent humanity. We are human and deserve to be seen as fun, quirky, cool friends that have great relationships and loving families. I hope when they see us they know that they can do and be anything if they work hard.

Representation is powerful. Can you share who your role models are?  

Representation is definitely important because it increases confidence and gives you validation when you see someone that looks like you, not just in acting, but in other professions as well. My parents are my biggest role models. As far as show business is concerned, I would pick Viola Davis and Dominique Fishback are my acting models. From the producer aspect, I admire Robin Thede, Regina Hicks, and Quinta Brunson who also happens to be my birthday twin.

Peyton Z. Basnight

Can you tell us where your acting career began, and what your first big role was?
I began acting when I was about 7 years old. I have always wanted to act, that has never changed and it never will. My first big role was the role of Ari on “Saturdays”. 

How did you land the role of Ari, and what can you tell us about your character?

God tremendously blessed me with this role. I auditioned for Ari in December of 2021 and continued the audition process through January and found out I booked the role in February! Ari is a fashionable, butterfly loving, gossiper. 

What were some of your favorite scenes or episodes to film, and why?

Some of my favorite scenes to film were the location shots, when we would film on location, I always had a blast. My favorite episodes to film were the episodes with battles in them, for some reason it was just really cool to film those! 

What was it like filming the skate routines, and did you already know how to skate?

Filming skate routines was very fun! It was really cool to film scenes when the camera guy would also be on rollerblades (slightly nerve-wracking, but always fun!) I did not really know how to skate, I skated a bit when I was younger, but I truly learned how to skate for the show. 

What do you hope viewers, especially young Black girls, will love the most after watching ‘Saturdays’?

I hope that viewers will love the representation and be inspired by it. This show is truly special and I hope everyone feels that magic after they watch it.

You can watch ‘Saturdays’ on Disney Channel every Friday at 9p, and on Disney+ the next day.

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