Warning: Make sure you have seen latest episode “Ambush” before reading!
UnREAL has always sought to reflect the real world of Reality TV but this week things got very close to home when police shot one of the African-American characters on the show.
Mindful of recent US events, co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and writer Ariana Jackson discussed this with the Hollywood Reporter in this excerpt:
There have been far too many examples to run down here, but we recently watched two more examples of black men being shot and killed by cops. You were sitting there knowing that this episode was going to air less than two weeks later, what are the emotions swirling through your heads?
Gertrude Shapiro: I definitely was like, ‘Oh shit.’ And then I hope we got it right because it’s such a crucial issue right now, and I feel really scared to be on the frontlines of it. I also hope that people can have honest conversations about this stuff because it’s so scary to talk about but what we found within our room is that being really honest about these issues helped us make something that we feel proud of and that we feel has integrity.
Jackson: It would have been great for this episode to have been irrelevant by now. It’s hard to think about these real life events in the context of what we want for our show. I wish it was last year’s problem and it felt dated by now.
Lifetime opted to keep this episode on the schedule as planned, and not shelf it as often is done when life suddenly imitates art in this way. Was that the right move in your minds?
Gertrude Shapiro: I believe in the basic integrity of the story in terms of it being carefully thought through. We made an effort, for instance, to write and cast the cop as a rookie who probably hadn’t received a lot of the escalation training and also to have a certain amount of empathy for him. We don’t want to gloss that over or take away responsibility but in the specific scene that we’re depicting, all of the blame lays on Rachel — for underestimating the situation, for creating the situation, for trying to document the situation to basically impress her boyfriend. Rachel is the asshole in this situation. She put the cop’s life in danger and she put two men’s lives in danger and there’s something in that that I feel has integrity. I also think it’s important that Romeo doesn’t die. I feel like we’d probably be having a different conversation if he did.
In an ideal world, what do you hope the take away or legacy of an episode like this is?
Gertrude Shapiro: The conversation about white allies is a vital one. If you are a white person who cares about these issues, what is the appropriate way to be invited into the conversation? And to [that end,] what is inappropriate and what is it that you maybe don’t understand? I think that’s another reason why the episode is relevant right now. For me, as a white person who does care about these issues, I’m glad that that conversation might be happening and that [we’re] pointing out that there’s no way that you can know what it’s like to be a black man. It’s not your story to tell but that there are ways to be an ally but you have to be asked and you have to listen. So I feel like it’s additive, it’s part of the conversation that still needs to be happening — or at least that’s my hope.