FX's newest series Snowfall wants to give viewers an education on the crack cocaine epidemic that rocked Los Angeles in the early '80s. At the show’s center is Franklin Saint, a young dealer played by newcomer Damon Idris. The subject matter is pulled straight from this country's recent history, but is Franklin Saint based on a real person?
Developed by John Singleton, who wrote and directed Boyz N The Hood, Snowfall will focus not only on Franklin's journey as he falls deeper into this field, but how East Los Angeles was affected by the arrival of crack cocaine in its neighborhoods.
The show's protagonist isn't based directly on a real person, but the inspiration Franklin and the changing world he lives in comes from Singleton’s experiences of growing up in Los Angeles at that time. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the director told the audience at the show's ATX panel that he drew his inspiration for Franklin from his own youth in South Central. Like Franklin, Singleton attended school in the valley, where he interacted with mostly Japanese and Jewish classmates, introducing the future filmmaker to a world different from what he knew from home. Referring to the events of Snowfall as depictions of his "formative years," Singleton is using Franklin's story to provide audiences with a firsthand view of this fateful summer in Los Angeles.
As one of the main characters in Snowfall, Franklin struggles with trying to make his mother proud and trying to support himself and her by selling drugs. Without the advantages enjoyed by his classmates, he tries to better his circumstances by transitioning from selling marijuana to selling the much more lucrative crack. In Singleton’s case, he chose not to become involved in the drug trade, whereas Franklin’s journey focuses on his decision to become a part of this major change in his neighborhood.
As Rolling Stone reported, Singleton used a lot of his experiences to create the stories told on Snowfall. Like his main character, Singleton watched his neighborhood change completely when drug dealers began selling crack cocaine. But he still relied on more direct accounts. "There are people that lived this stuff, we had to bring people in the room that could speak to this," Singleton said at ATX, according to the same The Hollywood Reporter piece. "We brought in consultants who were deep into each part of it."
The underlying thread of the rising popularity of crack cocaine provides Snowfall with a realism that could lead to an understanding of how it changed lives like Franklin's. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Singleton said, “It's an untold story. It's the story about how cocaine changed Los Angeles. There's a whole kind of oral history, folk tale about this era. And no one has dramatized it. I wanted to do that.”
While Franklin Saint falls more into the dramatized side of Snowfall than the historically accurate, it's clear that this character and project are important to John Singleton. With his attention to detail and his own experiences permeating Franklin's story, Snowfall offers an intimate look at a pivotal time.