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03/22/2017 05:17 pm ET

Why 'Shots Fired' Made An Unarmed White Student The Victim Of A Police Shooting

Creator Gina Prince-Bythewood says the show was sparked by George Zimmerman’s 2013 trial.
The series examines the aftermath of two racially charged shootings in a small North Carolina town.
FOX
The series examines the aftermath of two racially charged shootings in a small North Carolina town.

Filmmakers Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood are aiming to uncover the complexities of America’s criminal justice system with their new Fox drama series “Shots Fired.”

Starring Sanaa Lathan, Tristan “Mack” Wilds, Stephan James, Helen Hunt and Aisha Hinds, the 10-episode series chronicles the aftermath of two racially charged shootings in a small North Carolina town following African American police officer Joshua Beck (played by Wilds) killing an unarmed white college student.

The decision by the husband-wife team to reverse the narrative of police brutality came during the early stages of the show’s development, according to Prince-Bythewood.

The “Love & Basketball” director tells The Huffington Post that the story was inspired by George Zimmerman’s much-publicized 2013 trial in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, in which the former neighborhood watch coordinator received over $200,000 from supporters to help fund his legal defense. 

“What struck us after the Zimmerman trial was how they kept reporting on how much money was being donated to George Zimmerman,” she said. “And it was a shock that so much of the population was empathizing with him and not the 17-year-old boy who was killed for absolutely no reason. And it shocked us, but not everyone was seeing that. And the fact that when these shootings happen, it seems like the first thing that happens is that people start to demonize the victim and make excuses for what happened.”

Stephan James and Sanaa Lathan in Fox's "Shots Fired."
FOX
Stephan James and Sanaa Lathan in Fox's "Shots Fired."

“So we felt if we flipped it, it would give people who normally don’t deal with this an opportunity to feel what it’s like to be in our shoes, so to speak,” she continued. “And hopefully empathize and understand so that when it happens you’re not desensitized anymore.”

The show’s recurring themes of race and social justice also delve into the related economic effects of federal private prisons and America’s school-to-prison pipeline.

Through the years, privately owned prison facilities have faced scrutiny over safety and security, especially in comparison to federally run prisons.

Various reports have concluded that students of color face harsher disciplinary action and are more likely to be pushed out of school than their white counterparts ― all of which contributes to America’s increasing mass incarceration rates and the disproportionate number of black and Latino prisoners.

(L-R) Reggie Rock Bythewood, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Stephen James, Jill Hennessy, Sanaa Lathan and Mack Wilds attend the "Sho
Noam Galai via Getty Images
(L-R) Reggie Rock Bythewood, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Stephen James, Jill Hennessy, Sanaa Lathan and Mack Wilds attend the "Shots Fired" New York screening.

“We don’t think people understand and know about the pipeline and what private prisons do and how they make money and how corrupt it is and how it absolutely affects policing,” Prince-Bythewood said. “That was one of the things that we wanted to do with the show is be able to open it up and show this issue from every seat in the house, not just the victims and the families and the police, but how it rises up into the politics and how laws are made and why they’re made to benefit people in power.”

“All of this affects the people on the ground. The private prison complex is a horrifying thing,” she added. “And also what happens in our schools and the equity in schools can absolutely affect a child’s chance of living life.”

In addition to her hope for the show’s characters to spark more activism in America, the 47-year-old filmmaker also wants politicians and law enforcement officials to take note of the show’s underlying messages to help create a more unified America.

“We hope that we give a blueprint,” she said. “Our show isn’t just ten hours of venting, but hopefully at the end of the ten hours we’re offering some thoughts on how things can change.”

“Shots Fired” airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on Fox.

HuffPost

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