*Fox’s new limited series “Shots Fired” debuts tonight, March 22, right before the winter-break return of “Empire.” The 10-episode series follows the murders of an unarmed white man who is shot by an African-American officer, and a African-American teenager — whose case is being ignored by law officials.
The Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center (BHERC) has cited the series for its “powerful” acting and producing, as such, the organization is encouraging you to tune in to the series premiere Wednesday night and tweet your reaction after the show.
Sanaa Lathan leads the stellar “Shots Fired” cast, which includes Stephan James, Helen Hunt, Richard Dreyfuss, Stephen Moyer, Will Patton and Aisha Hinds.
“We have an incredible ensemble of actors and we put together who we wanted together and everybody came aboard because they believed in the vision,” series co-creator Gina Prince-Bythewood told the EUR/Electronic Urban Report‘s Lee Bailey ahead of the series premiere.
“They only had the pilot script to go off and so all of our meetings with the actors was a sit down and taking them through the arc of the season, the arc of their character and the vision of the season — what we were trying to say to the world. Everyone that came aboard, came aboard because they shared the same vision. Everybody had that shared desire to change the world.”
Bythewood created the series with her husband and creative partner Reggie Rock Bythewood, and both serve as executive producers along with Francie Calfo and Brian Grazer.
“I think a lot of our actors, even the white actors, were affected by the events that they were seeing in the news,” Reggie also shared with EURweb’s Lee Bailey. “I really felt like we created this mission statement where we all have a cause bigger than ourselves, and I feel like one of the reasons we got Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfus and Academy Award winner Helen Hunt, and Sanaa Lathan and so many great people to sign on is because they wanted to be apart of a show that could create change and we brought that level of idealism to the project.”
The series is a passion project for the couple, and it was inspired by police brutality – more specifically, the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown.
“We created it together, and we executive produced it together. Gina directed the pilot and hour eight, and I directed our finale, which is hour ten. We supervised all the scripts, we had a writing staff. This is clearly a labor of love,” Reggie said, with Gina adding, “To do it together is the only way it could be done.”
Peep the rest of our conversation about the series with the Hollywood power couple below.
READ RELATED STORY: BHERC Issues Call to Action for New FOX Drama ‘Shots Fired’ (WATCH)
ON THE GENESIS FOR THE SHOW
Reggie: We’ve really been concerned and interested in this subject matter of community not working with law enforcement but sometimes it felt like law enforcement was against community. The whole idea of law enforcement and community not working together is something that really concerned us. But I’d say the tipping point was in July 2013 when Zimmerman was on trial for second-degree manslaughter of Trayvon Martin. I watched the verdict come when my oldest son, who is 12-years-old at that time, and when the verdict came in, he was crushed. I was crushed but not surprised. He was crushed and surprised, and tears welled up in his eyes and instead of consoling him, I pulled open my laptop and showed him an Emmett Till documentary on YouTube. So we began to have this talk and I feel like it was the first time I talked to my 12-year-old son man-to-man really, and talked to him about the criminal justice system, how it works in this country, how it’s suppose to work and how it has not worked. He was very moved by all this and actually ended up writing the short story of Trayvon Martin going to heaven to meet Emmett Till, which we actually ended up putting in hour five of “Shots Fired.”
But it was around that time that we really started feeling like we wanted to be, not on the sideline as parents and black people and artists, but really wanted to engage in a subject matter to see if there’s something we can do to challenge this perspective and create change. So we started working on a screenplay in this arena, and as we started putting together our thoughts on what a 90-minute to 2-hour film would be, Gina got a call.
Gina: It was right after Ferguson happened, and Mike Brown — Ferguson erupted and the head of Fox reached out to Brian Grazier and Francie Calfo at Imagine and said that she wanted to do a series that addressed what was happening in America at the time. I had just done a pilot for Imagine so they were familiar with my work so they reached out and said if this was something I’d be interesting in, and I wasn’t thinking at all about going back to television, neither was Reg, but went home and really thought about it and thought about the fact that we had an opportunity to tell this story we wanted to tell in any way we wanted to tell it, and not have to try to put it in two hours but stretch it out to 10 or 13 hours, and that was really exciting to us, as well as the reach of television. And it just felt like something that we couldn’t pass up.
Reggie: Another great thing about it is, we didn’t have to tell our narrative in 90 minutes to 2-hours. So that’s why you’ll never hear Gina and I say “Episode 1. Episode 2.” We treat this as a 10-hour film, so we’re always saying “Hour 1. Hour 2, and so on.”
ON BEING ACTIVISTS WHO USE “ART AS A WEAPON”
Gina: We absolutely love to use our art as a weapon. We believe art can change the world. And we really hope that this show can spark conversation and really provide an opportunity for people to start talking about what’s considered to be the civil rights issue of our time. It’s something that’s not going away. It’s not changing, especially at this time with this current administration. Things seem to be getting even worse. So we want to absolutely be part of the conversation and part of the change.
Reggie: We have heroes that are sports figures… Ali, Magic, Jackie Robinson, but we also have some of our champions like Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston… these artists that inspire us. So we feel it’s the role of an artist to challenge perspective. We hope to hold a mirror up to society and reflect what’s there, and if we’re really lucky, will also reflect on what we should see.
ON THE FICTIONAL TOWN “SHOTS FIRED” IS SET
Gina: It takes place in North Carolina, and that’s also where we shot. Going into this, we talked about wanting it to feel like an autopsy of Ferguson. We wanted it to feel like a place in America that you don’t ever see on television. So it was really about bringing that authenticity — that urban, southern feel to this piece.
ON THE TITLE OF THE SERIES
Gina: When it was originally written it was called “Indictment” but we starting thinking of another title. I came up with the title (and) as soon as we pitched it, everybody loved it.
Reggie: It felt a little more organic because we started thinking about… even in some of the videos that we’ve seen, it’s the first thing that a law enforcement officer calls out when someone’s shot, and it’s always a grey area because you never know if the shooting is justified or not, and so it’s pretty much a rich title for all those reasons.
Gina: But also it has another meaning as well in our community, shots fired. So we love the double meaning of the title.
ON TEAMING WITH FOX TO HELP RAISE CONSCIOUSNESS
Reggie: It’s clearly a different company between Fox News and Fox, which I think is important for people to understand. Because I think a lot of people might assume, “Okay, if Fox is doing this narrative it’s gonna lean a certain way.” But you know, the last time I worked for Fox was for “New York Undercover,” and that definitely (was) more of a pop culture sort of project that felt groundbreaking. This certainly feels like more of an adult sort of mystery. We like to say that this is a whodunit and a whydunit because “Shots Fired” follows the case of two mysteries at the same time. An unarmed white guy was killed and an unarmed black guy was killed. The white guy is Jesse Carr. We know Jesse Carr was killed by a black police officer but we don’t know why. We know Joey Campbell was killed but we don’t know who. So these two mysteries going on at the same time, and our hope is that while we are having audiences lean into this mystery and providing an entertaining show, we also hope that we’re raising consciousness at the same time.
Support the BHERC Call To Action to watch and spread the word for the outstanding show “Shots Fired,” premiering TONIGHT, Wednesday, March 22 at 8/7c on Fox.
A story about Justice, Healing and Hope. Support the amazing writers, directors and producers, Reggie and Gina Bythewood, and the outstanding cast.
Join the action at #Shotsfired
Let’s tweet, email, call and more! Vote while watching and share your feedback with us!