Missing Black Girls Deserve More Attention. With NBC’s Found, They’re Getting It.

Photo: Kelvin Bulluck.
NBC’s buzzy new drama Found opens with a scenario we know all too well. A white girl is missing, and the news crews are lined up, breathlessly reporting every detail in a relentless effort to bring her home. Conversely, a Black girl who has also disappeared at the same time in the same city is largely ignored, silently begging for the decency of attention instead of apathy and the same communal and police support as her peer. Enter: Gabi Mosely. Played by the inimitable Shanola Hampton (Shameless), Gabi is Olivia Pope for the missing and marginalized. She’s a PR wizard leading a crisis management team who can stand in front of a press scrum and deliver an impassioned speech as easily as she stands up to a bigoted police chief. Once a missing person herself, Gabi is uniquely suited to strut into a seemingly hopeless setup and save the day. The catch: she’s harboring a devastating secret of her own. 
Created and written by All American executive producer Nkechi Okoro Carroll and Greg Berlanti (You, Dawson’s Creek), the show’s rundown from NBC goes like this: "The premise of Found is chilling, shining a spotlight on the harrowing statistic that in any given year, more than 600,000 people are reported missing in the U.S. Of these reported cases, more than half of the missing people are people of color, too easily neglected by the system." The stats are horrifying. According to the National Crime Information Center, via NPR, in 2020, 268,884 girls and women were reported missing. Of that number, 90,333, or almost 34% of them, were Black. But Black girls and women account for only about 15% of the U.S. female population. We know of the "missing white woman syndrome" that sees the public prioritize certain cases over others (MSNBC anchor Joy Reid, who makes a cameo in the series, spotlighted this during the Gabby Petito case), and we know that so many missing Black girls remain nameless and faceless. Found is hoping to not only be an addictive addition to your fall TV lineup — it’s also shedding light on an issue we need to be talking more about. 

Trauma has no look to it. It does not discriminate. How each person deals with trauma is different. You get to see that in [my character] Gabi Mosely.

shanola hampton
With a Black woman at its center, and a Black girl as its first case, Found of course depicts the specific plight of Black women and girls, but Gabi and her team also take on clients of other marginalized groups who are disproportionately impacted when they go missing, like Indigenous women and girls, other people of color, elderly folks and sex workers. When the cast (Hampton, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Gabrielle Walsh) premiered the show’s pilot at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) in Miami last week, they stressed the importance of telling these stories, but also of capturing the nuance of what trauma can do to people in these circumstances. (Full disclosure: I moderated the Found premiere screening at ABFF.)
“[I loved] being able to play a complex character who you think has it all together and she’s a boss and then you see that she too has trauma,” Hampton told me and the rapt crowd in Miami. “That’s our theme. Trauma has no look to it. It does not discriminate. How each person deals with trauma is different. You get to see that in Gabi Mosely.” 
Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
The series hinges on a formidable performance by Hampton since Gabi Mosely is complicated. She’s poised in stressful situations and impeccably put together, but she’s also dealing with unimaginable demons. Hampton, who, in person, is a ball of electric energy who can’t stop cracking jokes, pulls off the nuance of Gabi perfectly. Her co-star Gosselaar, who you may know from NYPD Blue, the criminally underrated and short-lived Pitch (RIP), or a little franchise called Saved By The Bell, describes being in awe watching Hampton work. “Watching Shanola is exhausting,” he said, eliciting  laughter as he stood up and mock-ran around the stage to imitate Hampton’s infectious spirit.
Even though the show tackles heavy themes, the cast stressed that Hampton set a fun tone on set. As for Gosselaar’s character, I can’t reveal much except for his name: “Sir.” I’ll just say that most of the screaming I did at my TV was because of Gosselaar’s performance, which is pitch perfect. Rounding out the principal cast is Gabi’s crisis management team (think Scandal’s gladiators, except they proudly wear the title of “vigilantes”). Repping for that squad was Gabrielle Walsh (9-1-1, The Vampire Diaries) who plays Lacey, a lawyer who’s as devoted to Gabi as she is to finding missing people by whatever means necessary. 
“Life, trauma, these things aren’t black and white,” Walsh said on stage at ABFF. “My character gets to discover a lot about her hero and who she thought she was and how that dynamic in terms of safety changes her. Everybody has their own story. Everybody has their own struggle. You learn how these heroes use their trauma for purpose and power but how that also affects them at the same time.” 
The brilliance of Found doesn’t just lie in its important premise, but in its fully fleshed out characters, fast-paced drama, and mind-blowing twists as well. (Seriously, you won’t see the pilot’s ending coming.) It’s a compulsive procedural that gets better with every case, and its creator Nkechi Okoro Carroll told me that it’s her proudest work to date. I haven’t been this invested in a network drama since Scandal, and I’ve only seen two episodes — that’s the highest compliment I could give. I promise you’re going to want to tune in this fall to find out how Found tells the stories of people who deserve our full attention. Also, it’s just really, thrillingly entertaining. 
Found premieres on NBC this fall. 
The American Black Film Festival is running virtually until Sunday, June 25th. 

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