Love & Basketball director Gina-Prince Bythewood is developing a limited series for Fox based on the aftereffects of a racially-charged shooting. Sanaa Lathan, who starred in Basketball has signed on to star.
Unlike the shootings that have made the biggest headlines, this story will revolve around and African-American cop who kills a white teen in Tennessee. Variety reports that Lathan will play an investigator who works the case, along with a special prosecutor sent from the Department of Justice, while facing the gauntlet of media, social unrest, race relations, and public opinion.
We’re closing in on four years since Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman and the case ignited increased media attention on all police – and even citizen – action in the name of defense. The 2014 deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY further fueled civil unrest and calls for use-of-force reform among police departments.
While some may accuse Fox of cashing in on a hot topic there is a long history of using creative storytelling to delve into deeply divisive national issues. Vietnam movies have been replaced by films both critical of, and supporting, the war on terrorism. As the use of drones has increased movies like Good Kill and Full Contact are portraying important moral and tactical questions. And TV shows from Law & Order, to Murphy Brown, to South Park use current events to provide regular and special plotlines. Most adults today were primed for such storytelling, raised as were with ABC’s After School Specials and their endless depictions of the latest teen troubles.
Prince-Bythewood is joined by her husband Reggie Rock Bythewood in writing and executive producing the project. The two have been interested in issues-oriented programming throughout their careers; they first met on the set of A Different World when Bythewood produced an episode where Prince-Bythewood played a battered woman. They most recently worked together on 2014’s Oscar nominated film Beyond the Lights, a love-story in which Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a music star collapsing under career pressure. (Ironically her love interest, played by Nate Parker, is a cop.)
Prince-Bythewood also fights for her beliefs off-screen. She told NPR’s David Green that she’s working to obliterate the term “black film”. She took Netflix to task after Lights debuted on the service, where it was promoted beside other shows and movies featuring casts with a majority of black actors rather than love stories or music-industry films. Though Netflix wouldn’t discuss its algorithm publicly The Washington Post reported that their chief content officer called Prince-Bythewood directly to discuss it.