“I always live by a few simple rules, but I’ve learned that a real man realizes his rules have to work not just for him, but for all the people who count on him.” ~Xtra, In the Hive
Like the character he portrays in Robert Townsend’s soon to be released film In the Hive, Jonathan McDaniel is a young man who’s making new rules for his life and looking to set an example for young people who might follow his lead. As the starring character around whom Townsend’s latest directorial venture revolves, McDaniel calls upon life experiences to capture the essence of Xtra — a young man from a broken home whose life is forever changed by technology and the unparalleled support system he finds in a local alternative school.
Of his role, McDaniel says, “In the Hive was a journey. It was just one of those experiences I’ve been waiting for all my life, just to have someone have enough faith and belief in me, to trust me to hold a film and be able to step into that leading role and really carry a film alongside some veteran actors.” Those veteran actors include Loretta Divine, Vivica Fox, Michael Clark Duncan, and Roger Guenveur Smith, all of whom McDaniel admires deeply.
Starting his entertainment career in music, McDaniel later transitioned to the small screen, acting alongside Raven Simone on the Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven. He has also been featured online in the web series 9ine on PiC.tv, a product of the One Economy Corporation – the producing entity behind In the Hive.
Of the many themes that resonate throughout the film, technology emerges as a subtle but crucial element of Xtra’s evolution as a man. According to McDaniel, “the importance of technology, hand in hand with the opportunities that are out there,” has the ability to change outcomes in people’s lives. Specifically, youth need to be given “the opportunity to understand the greater value of technology, beyond just entertainment.”
Reflecting on the words of his good friend and acclaimed personality Jeff Johnson, McDaniel said that “technology is so important, but it’s also important for [young people] to understand the correct way to use technology to be able to gain access to the right opportunities to excel in life.
“That’s were technology comes hand in hand with kids,” he went on to say, “they just need to understand that there’re other ways to be able to use it to gain bigger and better things for themselves. Instead of looking at your smartphones for crazy, funny videos, you can also use it to find scholarship websites that can help get you into college, job websites that can help you find job opportunities and the career opportunities and dream jobs that you want.
“There are so many ways to use technology,” he says, “and I think that if kids knew about the other 90% of ways to use technology to gain bigger and better things for themselves in life, that would help change a lot of ideas in the youths’ minds about what they can do and what they can be. It’s so hard for kids to see what’s in their future when there’re so many things telling them they don’t have a future.”
Beyond gaining a deeper appreciation for the nuanced impact that technology can have on the lives of young people, portraying the role of Xtra has amplified McDaniel’s life in many ways — most of all, it’s inspired him to be a better man.
“I’ve always understood that there is a desperate need to intervene in the lives of youth when it comes to the importance of remembering what’s real and what isn’t…A lot of [this experience] has taught me about really embracing myself and my knowledge.” It’s a knowledge that McDaniel says he wants to share with others, particularly considering his heartfelt appreciation for growing up knowing that his “knowledge was power.”
McDaniel sees his experience with In the Hive as an opportunity to better himself that he may be a better example to others, and cites the encouragement he received growing up as one of the primary factors of his success thus far. It’s that same encouragement that McDaniel believes ought to be imparted to younger generations.
“There’s a responsibility that we have as individuals once we’re put out in the spotlight…it’s all about trying to get kids to understand that it’s OK to be different…it’s OK to show the sensitive side of yourself, it’s OK to show the problems you have, the insecurities you have. You don’t have to be a hard shell who doesn’t let anyone in.”
The beauty of life, he says, “is the opportunity to change ourselves.” It’s a lesson he’s learned throughout life and one he aptly conveys through his portrayal of Xtra in Townsend’s In the Hive.