The almost supernatural way that creatives are able to tap into contemporary ethos has manifested itself once again with the upcoming FOX series Shots Fired. From Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie "Rock'' Bythewood, Shots Fired takes place in a fictional suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina following the shooting of a young white male by a black police officer.
In order to stave off racial unrest in the town that is largely black, with a majority white police force, the Department of Justice sends down young hotshot Preston Terry (played by Stephan James) and investigator Ashe Belle to investigate the shooting.
However, it is soon revealed that there is an underlying current of mistrust between the African American community and the police force and the duo must navigate a fine line between gaining the trust of the community and the police department simultaneously in order to get to the bottom of things. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the drama begins.
The Shadow League was on hand at the 20th Urbanworld Film Festival for an advanced screening of the pilot for the 10-episode series, and was impressed with the richness of the subject matter as well as the social consciousness of its creators, and the fact that FOX would produce such an offering.
Award-winning director Jonathan Demme moderated a Q&A afterwards and the collected cast and creators weighed in on the significance of the series.
"This is a collision of art and activism," said executive producer Reggie "Rock" Bythewood. "We hope at times it will make you laugh and ultimately we hope you challenge perspectives and create meaningful dialogue. We firmly believe that if you're going to come into somebody's world you can't leave them out. We understand that it's uncomfortable but sometimes that can lead to meaningful dialogue, meaningful change."
"We think that in ten hours, we've given some potential solutions some will embrace," he continued. "If not, then at least it can lead to some meaningful dialogue. I don't know how we defend it. It's just that we really give a damn about this issue and we felt that bringing our art and activism together is the way we wanted to address it."
"As soon as they read the script they ordered the series, which is rare," said Director Gina Prince-Bythewood. "When you get in your mind who you want in your film, it's difficult to let go. They say film is 90 percent casting. Like, Aisha Hinds, we knew we wanted her. She was locked in another show and they said, no it's not possible, but we just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. Tristan was locked into The Breaks. We auditioned him knowing that and not knowing what was going to happen and now he's here with us. We knew we wanted Stephan right away."
"What my husband and I have learned over the years is to be passionate about the projects you're working on," she continued. "This business is incredibly hard. You hear a thousand no's. Be passionate about the stories that you tell. Be passionate about what you're trying to say, be passionate about what you're trying to put out into the world."
"It's interesting because Reg and I were on a completely different track," said Gina, who has directed Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees, Disappearing Acts and Love & Basketball, among other projects. "We were doing a lot of features and FOX came to us and asked did we want to be a part of this. The fact that they came to us and gave us cart blanche as far as what we wanted to do was amazing. We tried to recall our first reactions to Trayvon Martin and our first reactions to Mike Brown, and put all of that in the show."
Lead actor Stephan James (Selma, Race) was also surprised at FOX's decision to greenlight this project and the richness of the subject matter.
"First of all, I can't believe that FOX is going to put this out," said James. "That blew me away. My character is someone who I had never seen on television before. Young, African American, cocky and working for the Department of Justice. He comes into the situation without a lot of experience."
"He's very green, but he's optimistic," James continued. "It speaks to what's going on in this country right now. A lot of people feel like they need to be part of the change but don't know how to be part of the change in order to be effective. He's been through a lot of things, as we find out on this ten- hour ride. He gets jaded because he realizes a lot of things are not as he believed they are. To me, the growth that he has in this series was really something I couldn't turn down."
"We felt like we wanted to do a show that was like an autopsy of Ferguson," said Reggie. "That was really a jumping off point for us. The great thing about having ten hours is you didn't have to say everything you wanted to say in two hours or ninety minutes. You're really able to just kind of go into detail."
Shots Fired is set to debut on FOX on an unspecified date in 2017. In addition to James and SanaaLathan, the all-star cast will include Helen Hunt, Richard Dreyfuss, Will Patton and Aisha Hinds. It is definitely on our watch list and should be on yours as well.