There are levels to this. That was my first thought after screening Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s ambitious mini-series “Shots Fired” for the second time. At first glance, the series appears to be an inverted tale, ripped straight from the headlines. In the fictional town of Gate Station, North Carolina (where 65% of its citizens are Black), an unarmed white college student has been gunned down by the only Black deputy, Josh Beck (Mack Wilds). Since it’s an election year and she can’t bear to have “another Ferguson” on her hands, North Carolina’s liberal female governor (Helen Hunt), calls in the big guns to help manage the crisis before everything bursts at the seams.
Enter Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan), a fixer and private investigator and special prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephen James), an unlikely pair hired by the Department of Justice at the request of the governor. As the two begin to try and unravel what exactly has happened, they are left with way more questions than answers. Quite frankly, so am I. As I said when I first screened the pilot way back in September, this is only the road map, and we don’t quite know where it’s going to lead.
There are several things still buzzing around my consciousness, after screening “Hour One.” Despite the fact that Wilds’ Deputy Beck seems naïve and remorseful, the video of him declaring to kill “crackers” unveils an entirely different side of him. It’s also extremely puzzling to me why he would choose to go into law enforcement in a community where he is the only Black face on the force. I realize that cops live and die by their code, but something just isn’t right here.
Speaking of things not adding up, are Sheriff Platt (Will Patton) and his men literally hunting Black boys?! As “Hour One” came to a close, I watched paralyzed, holding my breath as the kid on the bike road furiously to outrun the cars and people that were chasing him. As he threw his body under the crawl space of a house, I knew instinctively that this moment was connected to the death of Shameeka Campbell’s (DeWanda Wise) son, Joey.
For now, it appears like the only reason Joey’s life is going to be thrust into the spotlight is because of Jesse Carr, the dead unarmed white boy whom Deputy Beck shot four times. Bound together by tragedy and a Pastor who has her own ambitions (Aisha Hinds), the relationship that is being fostered between Shameeka and Alicia Carr (Jill Hennessey), two grieving mothers feels uneasy to me. Race, death, and violence are so intertwined in our country’s framework that perhaps I can’t let go of my own preconceived notions to trust this situation. Their grief might bind these women for now, but with politics and the media in the midst of it all, I expect that bond to be shattered quickly.
Despite everything else that is swirling around them, Lathan (in her most stellar performance ever) and James are the incredible foundations on which “Shots Fired” stands. Fiery and determined, Ashe clashes with the less seasoned and more diplomatic, Preston. Ashe’s alcoholism, anger, and a forthcoming custody battle with her daughter’s father are going to make it even more difficult for the pair to find some common ground. After all, Preston’s sole personal issue, for the time being, appears to be a heightened rivalry with his NFL superstar big brother.
Gripping and complicated, we don’t know much yet about what’s really going on in “Shots Fired,” but I do know that whatever is ahead is going to be absolutely devastating.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami