On Saturday evening, Urbanworld Film Festival presented a world premiere screening of 20th Century Fox’s new series Shots Fired at AMC Empire Theater in NYC. The screening was followed by a Q & A featuring the series’ creators Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood and cast members Stephan James, Tristan Mack Wilds, DeWanda Wise, Jill Hennessey, Aisha Hinds, and Kylen Davis. The Q & A was moderated by Jonathan Demme.
We had the pleasure of sitting beside DeWanda Wise’s proud mother, Margie, who came up from Maryland for the premiere. We had a conversation about the timeliness of the subject matter and the struggle with helping people in rural areas better understand the complexities of the Black Lives Matter Movement. She also shared that her daughter has been working for about ten years after graduating from NYU and this role is a big break for her. DeWanda portrays grieving mother Shameeka Campbell, who’s son died under mysterious circumstances. Shameeka is understandably upset because of the attention paid to the death of a white shooting victim, while her son’s death seemed to be swept under the carpet. We suspect that her character will figure prominently in this series, which we heard from a little birdie could go anywhere from 3-5 seasons, depending on the buzz. Sadly, the subject matter is likely to continue being an issue, as we obviously have a long way to go in this country given the recent tragic events in Tulsa and Charlotte.
The screening got off to a late start, as the theater was not only filled to capacity, they were actually over capacity! People actually sat in the aisles and stood along the side of the theater because there weren’t enough seats! If this is any indicator of how well the series will do, then they’re definitely off to a great start!
Finally, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood came out and introduced their new series, thanking everyone involved for their hard work. They promised that although the subject matter is heavy, the series would also offer some lighter moments and even some moments that would make us laugh. The episode played to a very enthusiastic audience, and yes, there were some moments that made us laugh. But overall, the premiere episode, chock full of powerful performances from a stellar cast, made us take pause and think deeply about the issues facing this country today.
Without giving too much away, the series begins in what appears to be a small Southern town. We hear, but don’t see, ‘shots fired’ and then become witness to the immediate aftermath of the shooting of a young white male by a African American police officer (Tristan Mack Wilds). The story follows as the shooting becomes a primary focus of the Department of Justice, who send a prosecutor (Stephan James) and investigator (Sanaa Lathan) as well as the Governor (Helen Hunt). Tensions flare in the African American community, who are frustrated that a shooting involving a white victim has garnered the attention of the government and the media. A witness lures the investigators to seek out a “Ms. Campbell” (DeWanda Wise) for the truth. When the investigators interview Ms. Campbell, they discover that she knows nothing about the investigation at hand, but she is understandably upset because her son died under mysterious circumstances with no proper investigation conducted.
There are several powerful scenes in the premiere, in particular a scene in a church with incredible performances by Aisha Hinds (as a chaplain), DeWanda Wise, and Jill Hennessey (who plays the grieving mother of the white shooting victim). Hinds’ character encourages everyone in the community to join together as human beings to embrace and support these grieving mothers. True Blood fans may remember Hinds’ portrayal of “Miss Jeannette” from the first season.
Stephen Moyer portrays Officer Breeland. Suffice it to say, Steve is excellent in his portrayal of this small town officer. He had a few scenes in the premiere and from this episode alone, it is difficult to surmise what direction his character will be headed. We can’t wait to find out.
The Bythewoods magically address complex social issues while also interweaving a compelling personal story by delving into the troubled personal lives of the series’ leads, played by James and Lathan. Both provide excellent performances and enable us to become invested in their character’s journeys. We agreed that the premiere episode succeeded in whetting our appetites for more.
The evening ended with a brief Q & A in which Mr. Demme asked all the actors involved what kind of research they did for their roles. Everyone agreed that there is so much to pull from current events. Mr. Demme was slightly stumped with how to sensitively answer a question about issues that may be raised by the series focusing on a white victim of a black police officer. Everyone present at the panel was very enthusiastic about the opportunity to work on this project. Mr. Demme added that he was proud to be involved, and was happy to see the number of African American filmmakers, actors and those working behind the scenes, involved in this project.