Black Lives Matter Global Network co-founder Patrisse Cullors brings authenticity to a fictionalized protest ripped from real world headlines.
On Freeform's Good Trouble, Coterie resident and activist Malika (Zuri Adele) is one of the leaders in a Black Lives Matter protest over the slaying of teen Jamal Thompson. As we learn in the series, Jamal (a fictional character created for the series) was shot multiple times in the back by officers, who left the young man bleeding for nearly 20 minutes before allowing him to receive medical treatment. Jamal died at the scene, and five years later, Jamal's mother Sandra (Nicki Micheaux), Malika, and other Black Lives Matter activists have not given up hope that Jamal will receive justice.
Good Trouble — which aptly takes its name from Rep. John Lewis' quote about how fighting injustice is the right kind of "good trouble" — depicts the difficult quest to find justice for Jamal, and all the setbacks faced along the way. From courts that wish to hide evidence of possible police wrongdoing to leaked videos that make Jamal appear to have a bias against Black women, Good Trouble dives into the complexities that can emerge when fighting against injustice.
And the series has had the good fortune of having Cullors not only act as a consultant on the series (she'll also be back for season 2), but also having her appear as herself in the season 1 finale on April 2. Cullors, who will speak at the "Young Adults Keep Ruining Everything" panel during March 27's Freeform Summit, spoke to Refinery29 about her role on the show and why activism is so important to depict on TV.
Refinery29: How did you come onboard as a consultant for Good Trouble?
Patrisse Cullors: "One of the show's creators, Joanna Johnson, contacted me after reading my book [When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir]. I was very excited, and she let me read the scripts, and told me about the character of Malika. They wanted to make sure that Malika was in alignment with what the movement was doing. Then, she asked me to be on the show, and if I would be a part of [the protest scene], and I said yes."
How does the Jamal Thompson case reflect similar real-world situations?
"What's so powerful about the Jamal Thompson case is that they are having a conversation about a person who was killed five years ago. It allows you to see the impact it has on families. You hope for some sort of justice, and often you don't get it. Jamal's case is like so many. How often do we get a guilty verdict? Often, we don't. That, to me, was really compelling. The writers weren't just trying to use BLM as a Good Trouble storyline — they were thinking much more about what happens after someone is shot and killed, but [into the future repercussions.] It's about thinking thoughtfully about what has happened to so many individuals."
Have you spoken with Zuri Adele about her portrayal of Malika?
"I have. She's such a lovely person. As a Black person living in America, during this current moment, you're feeling all of this, whether you're an actor or an activist. You're impacted by what happens on a daily basis. I can feel it in [her performance.]"
The show also discusses how the foster care system can fail Black boys, as it failed Malika's brother Dom (J. Mallory McCree). Did you have any input on that storyline?
"I did not specifically, but I will say that Joanna told me that storyline, I was really grateful for it. We don't talk about the foster care system enough, and its impact on Black children who end up in foster care. We don't talk about how the system is set up so that Black boys don't get the care they deserve, and are often not adopted. That's a really important storyline, and an important conversation to have. The criminal justice system is the nexus of so many other systems, including foster care."
In the real world, we've seen many situations where people do not feel like justice was delivered in police brutality cases. Do you want Good Trouble to reflect this, or do you hope for a happier ending in Jamal's situation?
"I think it's tricky. I think it's important to not have it all tied up in a bow. I also think it's important making it seem like Black people's lives are always terrible. That's something that I consulted on with Joanna: Let's make sure Malika has a life that isn't all trauma. Yes, there is a lot of trauma we experience being Black in America, but there is also a joy that we find and move towards because of being Black. That becomes an incredibly important part of the conversation. You'll see it in this season, and in season 2. While you'll see a lot of pain and hurt through the eyes of Malika, in season 2, you'll also see deeper joy, resilience and fun."
Why is it important for television to represent activists accurately?
"It's important because it shows activism isn't just going to a protest. There are organizers [who do this every day], and they are really positioning themselves to change the material conditions for Black people and people at the margins of this country and this world. Showing that on television allows for people to see a fuller breadth of what we do [as activists]."
Good Trouble airs Tuesdays on Freeform at 8 p.m.