I hesitantly watched the premiere of Shots Fired last night and rather than being triggered or even inspired, I was wholly unmoved. In 2017 America, tackling a police shooting doesn’t require the explicit dialogue that the show’s pilot used to set up the story. Most of the episode felt mechanical and forced, and while there were a lot of memorable quotes, the story itself felt pretty stale. The first episode felt like someone read all of the tweets under #BlackLivesMatter, including the ones from the #alllivesmatter trolls, and pieced them together like a refrigerator magnet poem for TV. Shots Fired is standing on shaky ground in terms of complicating the race narrative, but brings a strong A-game in terms of gender.
The show pulls a racial switcheroo with the only Black police officer in a town killing an unarmed white man. It is supposed to inspire audiences to feel empathy for the victim of a police shooting — empathy that isn’t so easily given to real people of color who meet the same fate. And the episode explicitly calls into question why this shooting is being investigated when the murder of a Black teenager in the same town went ignored. It feels like an intervention; a mediation between white and Black people is visually represented in Shots Fired when the mothers of the Black and white victim meet in a church to hug. Perhaps I’m jaded, but it felt a little too kumbaya when what we really need is some accountability. Although I could appreciate them centering mothers and families in the police shooting narrative.
I’ve decided to stick with the show for one reason. Even if it doesn’t complicate its social justice narrative, Shots Fired has provided the best silver lining in the form of Sanaa Lathan’s character. Ashe Akino is an investigator from the Department of Justice who is partnered with a prosecutor to investigate the shooting. Akino is a complicated wildcard who gets really close to sexist tropes about women, and then crosses them. She’s a tender mother who loves her daughter even on the verge of losing custody over her. But that doesn’t stop her from throwing a vase at her baby daddy’s new girlfriend when she yells at the child. She likes alcohol and casual sex, not because she’s damaged but because she’s a adult. She confidently declares that she’s “every man’s type” and no, we don’t get a single shot of cleavage from her. She’s inaccessible, but not cold. And her rebellious streak seems to work as more of an asset than a liability to her case.
Too often women are reduced to their pain, or their love. Every action they take is supposed to make viewers wonder, “Who hurt you?” — I'm glad Shots Fired is avoiding that trap. For all the holes I can poke in the show's stance on racial justice, it's a relief that they got this right. I’m still looking for a show that can do both.