For Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood, making the TV series, "Shots Fired," is directly tied to being parents of black teenage boys growing up in America.
The 10-part event series begins with a familiar headline that has a twist: A police officer fatally shoots an unarmed teenager; but contrary to many real life shootings, the cop in the show is African American, and the young victim is white. The show goes on to also include a second murder. That one is of a black teen — and there's a mystery as to the identity of his killer.
The Bythewoods are the creators and show-runners of the series, which airs on Wednesday nights. They tell The Frame's John Horn that the seed of the idea goes back to a moment in July of 2013. Reggie says that he and their older son, who was 12 years old at the time, were watching the George Zimmerman verdict:
"When George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder of Trayvon Martin, our kid was blown away and got pretty emotional. And instead of hugging and consoling him and assuring him everything was going to be okay, I opened up my laptop and pulled up this Emmett Till documentary on YouTube. I thought it was time for my son to understand certain things about how the criminal justice system has worked in this country, and how the criminal justice system has not worked."
Bythewood goes on to say that a couple of things came from that experience: one, their older son would go on to write a short story about how Trayvon Martin meets Emmett Till in heaven; two, Reggie and Gina began the process of addressing the issues of race and the relationship between people of color and law enforcement through their art. So when the opportunity came to make a show with Fox, they leapt at the chance.
Gina tells The Frame that one reason they began the series with a police shooting that doesn't follow the usual narrative was also a reaction to the Zimmerman case:
"One of the things that struck is is the fact that you started hearing about people sending George Zimmerman money to help him with his legal fees, as if he was a victim. And people were not seeing Trayvon as a kid. They were not seeing his humanity. And that hurt us."
She says that in flipping the narrative to have a black officer shoot an unarmed white teen, they could promote empathy: "Once you start to empathize, you can then hopefully look and see when it happens to somebody else, you now understand what they're feeling. Once you can do that you can hopefully start to fight to change things."
"Shots Fired" airs at 8 pm Wednesdays on Fox. All episodes are available On Demand, on Hulu, and Fox Now.