As the first series hailing from Onyx Collective, Raamla Mohamed’s “Reasonable Doubt” is helping the new production label define itself as a home for unapologetically Black storytelling.
Currently streaming on Hulu, “Reasonable Doubt” stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as L.A. criminal defense attorney Jax Stewart, who seeming has it all –– a devoted husband, two growing children, a well-paying job, and a group of friends that support her through her highs and lows. But what bubbles beneath the surface of her impressively primped exterior (completed with a variety of hairstyles ranging from sleek to coiled) is a messy underbelly of questionable ethics in and outside of the courtroom as well as a pension for shade-throwing.
Corinealdi says the nuance of her character is what drew her to the project. “We all have these different layers,” she said. “And we don’t always get to see those played out on TV, especially with black women… I personally just love just seeing this multifaceted woman. You see the way she has her girlfriends, which is different from who she is in the office –– but also quite not that different.”
Mohamed, whose credits include “Scandal,” is an LA native who gathered inspiration from real life attorney Shawn Holley for “Reasonable Doubt.” After taking some creative liberties, Mohamed built a story that showcases the city as much as she incorporated aspects of her own life and that of Holley.
Mohamed says she wrote characters like Jax’s gal pals Shanelle, Autumn, and Sally to reflect the relationships of Black women she saw in her own life. The show’s dramatic murder mystery tale is punctuated by rap-filled car rides and authentic conversations between Jax and her girlfriends as they travel to various Los Angeles landmarks. She practices code-switching subtly as she navigates her professional and personal circles.
“I have my lifelong friends and also that dynamic is more than different than people who later because you meet you change so much, but then sometimes some of those dynamics in the seventh grade are still there,” she says.
Mohamed doesn’t mince words when talking about the unapologetic Blackness of the show –– down to allowing her characters the freedom to use the “N” word at pleasure. The cast is predominantly Black, and their mannerisms reflect their identity.
The showrunner also made it a point to reflect that same diversity among her crew adding people of color. “I was very specific about casting, about making sure we saw color,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that I would see all different types of black girls.”
The music of “Reasonable Doubt” was a nod to some of Mohamed’s hip-hop favorites. A self-proclaimed Jay-Z superfan, she took great care in personally choosing some of the show’s needle drops.
Michael Ealy, Pauletta Washington, Mckinley Freeman, and Shannon Kane also star in “Reasonable Doubt,” which boats executive producers like Larry Wilmore and Kerry Washington –– who also directed the first episode –– in addition to Mohamed.
Onyx Collective and Freeform president Tara Duncan says the show was the ideal series to launch her new production label inside Disney.
“Raamla, Kerry and Larry came with a clear vision and this story felt like a fun and fresh take on a tried and true genre, centered on a complicated and interesting character that would rally an audience,” Duncan tells Variety.
The series was first picked up to air on ABC before a switch was made to bring the project to Hulu. In doing so, several changes were made to the original show to adapt to its new streaming element including the writing.
“The bones of the series are true to the original vision, but in bringing the project to Onyx, Raamla updated the central case and took a more serialized approach in how the mystery unfolds over the course of the season,” said Duncan. “I think she also felt more creative freedom in how she wanted to play Jax’s backstory and the overall structure of the show.”
Onyx Collective immediately struck success with Questlove’s Oscar-nominated “Summer of Soul” documentary, which also aired on Hulu. As “Reasonable Doubt” premieres, changes are still being made inside Onyx Collective to beef up its scripted series department.
Duncan says that there will be “a lot more projects to announce soon” out of Onyx Collective. For example, on top of her EP work on “Reasonable Doubt,” Washington is expanding her relationship with the shingle, including the upcoming series “Unprisoned,” in which she’ll star opposite Delroy Lindo. Other projects expected soon include the limited series “The Plot,” produced and starring Mahershala Ali.
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