I really enjoyed this series. But coming from husband and wife team Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood; Gina being the genius behind the classic romance Love & Basketball (2000); The Secret Life of Bees (2008) Beyond the Lights (2014) and episodes of A Different World (4eps 1992 – 1993), I’m not surprised it passed my approval.
The synopsis – A small North Carolina town is turned on its head when a black police officer kills an unarmed white college student. As tensions rise along lines of race, the neglected murder of a black teen is brought to light, reopening old wounds. Investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) and Special Prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James) lead the Department of Justice’s inquiry into both shootings, pulling back layers to reveal a possible cover-up that appears to involve some of the state’s most powerful people, including Gov. Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt), whose re-election fight is made tougher by the incidents.
The Bythewoods created the show and directed some of the episodes. Lathan (Love & Basketball; The Best Man) reunites with them to play Ashe Akino a troubled ex-cop turned investigator alongside (10 episodes, 2017). James (Selma) as special investigating prosecutor Preston Terry turns up as the out of town investigator paired up with the from town Ashe to look into the murder of the white student. The guilty cop, is rookie Deputy Josh Beck (Tristan Mack Wilds – The Wire; Beverly Hills 90210).
Inspired by the spate of real world murders of teenagers at the hands of police in America, the Bythewood’s turns perspective on its head. Framing the story around what would happen if we had a white teen dead at the hands of a black cop, Shots Fired pulls back the lens on what could have been a typical and stereotypical narrative to uncover a web of cover ups, vigilantism, racism – of course, and money, power and politics… of course. Lathan does a fantastic job as Ashe. Usually cast as the girl next door in most of the ‘black’ films she’s known for, this is a break from her normal form and she handles the angry (not black woman) but just angry woman, who’s also facing a custody battle for her mixed race daughter really darned well. Ashe’s rocky partnership with the naive Terry also works well. Beck delivers good on his wide eyed eager prosecutor who soon gets a rude awakening as the outsider considered a sellout by the black community he claims to be trying to help.
Aside from taking an honest look at race, police and politics, this show has been cast really well. From Stephen Moyer (Bill – True Blood) as Lieutenant Breeland – you want to hate him but also realise he’s being manipulated along with everyone else caught up in this situation. Aisha Hinds (who if you’re not watching Underground are missing her fantastic turn as Harriet Tubman) has been cast in Shots Fired as political pastor Janae James. Leading the march on re-directing attention from the murdered white teen, to finding out who killed black teenager Joey Campbell not long before. Treading the thin line between protecting the community and overzealous / criminal actions Pastor Janae James represents the community’s voice and demonstrates the power of woman and religion.
Wild’s handles his character well. Forever baby faced he displays the right amount of innocence, confusion and bewilderment at the unfortunate situation he’s been caught up in. The black cop, who killed an unarmed white teen, straddling the fence between not selling out the black and working class community he knows, and protecting his brothers in blue. Married with two children, his wife Kerry Beck is played by British Blacktress Clare-Hope-Ashitey (Children of Men; Suspects). This is a round of applause from me, not only because she’s British, and Ghanaian (whoop-whoop), but it’s not often you get a dark-skinned actress who doesn’t have particularly western features to play the wife of a leading good looking African American man. At first however, I wasn’t sure of the chemistry between Josh and Kerry Beck. There seemed to be some distance and maybe awkwardness. I’m not sure if whilst watching I was projecting, wanting Josh to continuously smother Kerry in affection and reinforce how beautiful he thought she was… But it wasn’t the time, nor the storyline so once I got it out of my system… I’m very proud of Hope-Ashitey’s performance and hope she continues to rise through Hollywood. Only gripe, sorry… her hair. Sorry, please black actresses not every day let the art department dictate what you know better.
With so many layers revealed with each episode, it’s hard to see how Shots Fired doesn’t get to stick around for a couple of seasons at least. The appropriate diversity of the casting makes it a little ground breaking and the avoidance of caricatures and lazy stereotypes makes this a compelling watch. It’s not so predictable either. Getting to know the leading characters 360, makes it harder for you to pick a decisive side. Shots Fired is must watch.
Shots Fired episode 1 airs on Fox Channel tonight Sunday 4th June at 9pm.