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Reggie Bythewood Explains Creating FOX's 'Shots Fired' With Wife Gina and Speaking With Oscar Grant's Mother

The Bythewood name rings strong, especially behind the scenes in Hollywood. Reggie Bythewood and his wife Gina Prince-Bythewood have written, directed and produced timeless favorites for over 25 years. Bronx native Reggie Bythewood has exercised his penmanship for quite a few major productions including popular 90's television series "New York Undercover,"  Biggie Small's 2009 biopic "Notorious," and Spike Lee's "Get On the Bus" to name a few. Bythewood is also an award winning director, chairing the seat of film's "Gun Hill" and "One Night In Vegas."

His wife, Gina Prince-Bythewood is best known for her screenplay classic "Love & Basketball," "The Secret Life of Bees," and "Disappearing Acts." Among the two, Gina and Reggie have collaborated on a variety of projects as they have served as directors, producers and/or writers on each. The now married couple met on "A Different World" as writers, long before working together on "Beyond The Lights," "Biker Boyz," ESPN's 30-for-30 "Daddy's Girls," and now their most recent joint directorial debut "Shots Fired."

"Shots Fired" as Reggie described as a "family endeavor" couldn't align more with current times, examining the controversy behind America's justice system and its protection of its citizens. The 10-hour event originally created in mind as a film has turned into 1-hour segments airing on FOX Wednesdays. "Shots Fired" follows the racial charged shootings of two young men based out of Charlotte, NC. The original drama has an all-star cast, some whom have reconnected with the Bythewood's such as Sanaa Lathan and Mack Wilds. "Shots Fired" also stars Stephan James, DeWanda Wise, Jill Hennesy, Stephen Moyer, Will Patton, Aisha Hinds and Clare-Hope.

"Shots Fired" immediately had people talking following the release of its preview trailer several months back. Some believed the release of the FOX original solely focused on a black police officer killing a young white male in response to the countless number of black males killed by white officers. Despite initial reservations from few, "Shots Fired" is highly anticipated and is aimed to not only continue a very important conversation, but to obtain the same emotion of empathy and creation of justice for acts of violence for all people. While in Atlanta promoting "Shots Fired," creator/director Reggie Bythewood clarified exactly "Shots Fired's" premise, working with his wife and finding the inspiration to create the content.

What was the creative process coming up with "Shots Fired" and collaborating with your wife?
It was great. Gina and I created this series together and we managed not to kill each other (laughs). It was a really intense process. Not only are we married, but we're parents. A lot of our inspiration really came from us having two young man children. We started thinking about this idea not thinking that it would end up on FOX. It really began, thinking about this after the Zimmerman trial. I was watching it with my oldest boy who was 12 at the time, and when Zimmerman was found not guilty he was blown away. I was rocked too. He had tears in his eyes and I just didn't hug him up and tell him it was going to be alright, because I didn't know if it was going to be alright.
I pulled open a laptop, pulled up an Emmett Til documentary on YouTube. We began talking about the criminal justice system, how it worked and how in many ways it didn't work. 
Gina and I really started talking about wanting to do something in a space. We've been talking about it for quite sometime. Right around stuff happened in Ferguson, FOX approached us and asked would we ever want to do something in this arena. By now we were working on this trying to figure out how to do this as a screenplay. When they came to us we were like yeah. We jumped at it, because now we didn't have to tell this story within 90 minutes or 2 hours, we're actually giving 10 hours to do this. Shots Fired is a 10 hour film that is in many ways an autopsy into a town like Ferguson.
How were your boys involved in the process of the show?
It was really a family endeavor. On the roughest days, the dudes were having dinner with themselves. On the best days they were on set with us. Of course they were in school, we shot the show in Charlotte and we live in LA. During the summer we they were able to camp out there for a while and that was really great. It was a blessing. They were largely apart of our inspiration. It became very normal like "hey boy do your homework!" We were all in. It was like all hands on deck. 
Was there a significance picking the city of Charlotte for Shots Fired?
We knew we wanted to do it in the south. We were looking at various cities. At that time, Charlotte had a tax incentive and it was before the whole bathroom ban. We also wanted a city that felt like the community could be apart of in many ways. It just felt right there and it turned out to be the best decision. We had no idea that all those things would jump off in Charlotte later. 
Given the continuation of related events, in addition to having a new President, what do you want people to take away from Shots Fired?
We were so impatient. We finished this last August, we wanted it on air. At the time when we did it I think like a lot of people we assumed Hillary was going to win. Under the former administration, Eric Holder once called it the Civil Rights Division the "crown jewel" department of justice, I don't think we're going to be hearing that now. I think its even more timely and speaks to the urgency of having a department of justice that serves the people. We really just hope that we challenge people's perspectives and we hope people hang in there for all 10 hours. I think by hour ten we offer some valuable suggestions and solutions. You know Toni Morrison once said, everything she does is designed to expand articulation. We hope we do expand articulation and we're also very clear that this isn't just about venting. 
What was the conversation, if one, between yourself and Gina as working partners and your cast about preparing for critiques or possible backlash to Shots Fired since it was initially portrayed as a flipped narrative to reality (black cop killing the white kid)? 
Let me clarify there's two murders. There's a white kid that's killed and there's a black kid that's killed. We're dealing with two murders of two unarmed men. We're examining the differences. One of the things that happened around the Zimmerman trial were that people sent in cast donations to Zimmerman and couldn't sympathize with Trayvon, even after the President said if he had a son he would look like Trayvon. On a certain segment of the audience, maybe they'll sympathize more with it when they see a white kid who's a victim suddenly be villainized. On the other side with the African American kid, some of the cases and some of the things we have grown accustomed to see in our community. We wanted to examine both of them. 
In terms of backlash we have a cause bigger than ourselves. One of the first things we did as writers is, Ronda Johnson the mother of Oscar Grant came in and sat with the writers and told us her story from her point of view. It was like a mission statement. You go out having a cause bigger than yourself and that's how we went after it. God willing it'll make a difference. 
"Shots Fired" airs on FOX Wednesdays, 8PM EST.

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