Tian Richards: ‘Tom Swift’ highlights LGBTQ, Black issues

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Tian Richards is Tom Swift. Photo courtesy of The CW

LOS ANGELES, May 31 (UPI) — Tian Richards said Tom Swift, premiering Tuesday on The CW, depicts relatable issues for Black and LGBTQ viewers.

Richards plays Swift, a billionaire inventor, and the Swift family is not entirely supportive of Tom being openly gay.

Richards is openly gay and said his parents support him. However, Richards said he recognizes the behavior of Tom’s parents in his friends’ families.

“It’s little micro-aggressions, little comments that they make, little side jabs that you feel,” Richards said on a recent Zoom panel. “In a Black family, people say stuff.”

The CW introduced Richards as Tom Swift in an episode of Nancy Drew on May 12, 2021. Swift also comes from a series of books by Nancy Drew author Edward Stratemeyer.

Tom Swift books have been published from 1910 through the present via a series of ghost writers after Stratemeyer. The books feature Swift inventing something or using science to solve a mystery or a problem.

Tom Swift creators Melinda Hsu Taylor, Cameron Johnson and Noga Landau made the choice to make the books’ White protagonist a gay Black man. The show also updates Swift’s inventions to modern-day and the social issues Tom faces are contemporary, as well.

“Somebody who, on paper, has everything, still has human issues,” Richards said. “Though we have money and access and status, we are not void of human issues.”

At the beginning of Tom Swift, Tom’s father, Barton (Christopher B. Duncan), goes missing on a mission to space. Tom is thrust to the top of the family business earlier than he expected, while trying to find his father.

Richards said it was rare to see a wealthy Black family portrayed as having acquired their wealth through technology. Richards said movies and television usually show Black people getting rich through music or sports.

“It’s also just a beautiful thing to see Black people exist that we haven’t seen before [on television],” Richards said.

Asserting that “our heritage and legacy is tech,” Richards said he researched Black inventors and scientists to prepare for the role. He said he hopes Tom Swift encourages viewers to discover unsung Black creators.

“We got to talk about Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver and Lonnie Johnson,” Richards said. “And also [attempted to] get the young kids interested in STEM and tech, because that’s never looked cool before like this.”

Before Nancy Drew, Richards appeared on episodes of 24: Legacy, Outcast and The Neighborhood. He had small roles in films A Bad Moms Christmas, Dumplin’ and Burden, but said his Nancy Drew episode was “the most I’d ever done in an episode of television.”

Nancy Drew stars Kennedy McMann as the title sleuth. Richards said he studied McMann to prepare for taking the lead of Tom Swift.

“Just to watch Kennedy take control of the set as a leader and be so beautiful and fearless, it really gave me insight on what was to come,” Richards said. “I just sat back and watched how open and giving she was, and I hope to do the same.”

Tom Swift leaps ahead in the story from Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew premiered in fall 2019.

Through three seasons, Nancy Drew remained set in 2019. Tom Swift picks up Tom in 2022, and he has aged up accordingly.

“We look a little different,” Richards said. “We’re giving a little more grown-man energy.”

To prepare for the role, Richards read one Tom Swift book — Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, published in 1911.

The electric rifle fires bolts of electricity instead of bullets. Richards said such literary inventions predicted technology we take for granted now.

“The taser is the Thomas A. Swift electric rifle,” Richards said. “You will see so many references and new iterations of stuff that was in the book, little Easter eggs.”

Tom Swift airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. EDT on The CW.

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