In response to critically acclaimed, ripped-from-the-headlines shows, FOX introduces Shots Fired, its own star-studded event series that explores race in America and the issue of racial bias by the police and in the legal system. In Shots Fired, from husband and wife filmmaking duo Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood, a small Southern town is rocked by two racially charged killings and discovers inequalities in how the criminal justice system handles crime.
“It’s very easy for people to watch the news and see a piece about a shooting, and if you don’t identify with who’s on the screen, you turn it off,” explains Prince-Bythewood. The series starts off with the shooting of an unarmed white teen by the lone African-American officer in the police department of Gate Station, N.C. An investigation launched by the Department of Justice uncovers a similar case involving the death of a young black male, which failed to attract the same media attention and public outrage.
When describing the series at January’s Television Critics Association winter press tour, Bythewood evoked Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s seminal To Kill a Mockingbird, saying, “You never fully understand what a person’s going through until you can see it through their point of view.” Prince-Bythewood explains, “And so in flipping the narrative, it allows folks who don’t normally identify with characters to empathize with them, and through empathy you can change.”
“Shots Fired is a whodunit and a whydunit,” says Bythewood. “Who killed Joey Campbell, and why was Jesse Carr killed?” Tasked with answering those questions is Preston Terry, a smart, cocky, Ivy League-educated Department of Justice prosecutor (Stephan James), and his tough-as-nails former cop turned DOJ investigator (Sanaa Lathan). The deaths of the two young men affect the small, racially divided community to its core, from the boys’ mothers (Jill Hennessy and DeWanda Wise) to the police department (Stephen Moyer, Will Patton and Tristan Wilds) to the town’s religious leaders (Aisha Hinds) and even to the state’s governor (Helen Hunt).
The series’ theme music asks the question “Where do we go from here?” and while this is a work of fiction, it draws on the emotions of the events in Ferguson and Chicago. “We shot probably the most current show you’ll ever see,” marvels costar Richard Dreyfuss. “As you watch this show, you’re going to be reminded very clearly of the most current headlines in your life, and it doesn’t say it was about two days ago — it says it’s now. This is America.”
And while the search for social and legal justice is paramount to the project, Shots Fired still contains all of the sexy action of a good thriller. “We had a creed for the show,” says Bythewood. “Get the audience to the edge of their seats and, while they’re leaning forward, hit them with the truth.”
Shots Fired > FOX > Wednesdays beginning March 22