A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Shots Fired is a drama that looks at race and racial bias in the U.S. justice system. The story is fictional, but it discusses real-life police shootings of unarmed African-American men and related events. Gunfire is audible, dead bodies are shown, and people are chased and beaten. There’s some sexual discussion, tough language including "bitch," and drinking. Marijuana and drug dealing are discussed, as are issues such as child custody and coping with death. Despite the strong content, the series sends valuable messages about the racial divide in America from multiple points of view.
What's the story?
SHOTS FIRED is a drama that offers a broad examination of the relationship between race and the American criminal justice system. After an unarmed white college student is killed by an African-American police deputy (played by Mack Wilds) in a small, fictitious North Carolina town, investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) and special Department of Justice prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James) are sent to look into the case per the request of Governor Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt). During their probing they learn about the neglected murder of an African-American teenager. They also begin to suspect that state officials, including the governor, are involved in a politically motivated cover-up. As events unfold and police officers such as Lieutenant Calvert Breeland (Stephen Moyer) find themselves caught in the middle of the investigation, church activist Pastor Janae James (Aisha Hinds) works to generate national attention to the case to empower her community. Meanwhile, private prison owner Arlen Cox (Richard Dreyfuss) adds his voice to the issues at hand. But Alicia Carr (Jill Hennessey) and Shameeka Campbell (DeWanda Wise), the mothers of the boys who were killed, are trying to cope with their loss while hoping for justice.
Is it any good?
This honest and complicated drama addresses the complexities of race and racial tensions in America by allowing audiences to see it from multiple points of view. It points to the real-life and well-publicized shootings of Michael Brown, Walter Scott, and other unarmed African-American men by white police officers as a way of proving the existence of racial bias in law enforcement. However, it simultaneously underscores the fact that there are no simple explanations or easy solutions to the problem. It also explores the different ways the media can improve and exacerbate these situations.
Shots Fired is compelling, but at times it feels overambitious, thanks to some underdeveloped secondary storylines and characters. Some of the casts’ personal narratives, most notably Ashe Akino's anger management problems, are threaded awkwardly throughout. But these flaws aren't enough to take away from the powerful and painful message it delivers about America's continued struggle to find common ground when it comes to race.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about racism in Shots Fired. Where does the idea that people should be treated differently because of the color of their skin, shape of their eyes, or the texture of their hair come from? Can people be racist or engage in racist behavior without realizing it? How?
How does the media address race and the controversies surrounding it? What are the differences in the ways it is portrayed in the news vs. on dramas and comedies? Similarities?
Does Shots Fired offer a realistic or fair representation of what racial tensions are really like in the United States? If people from other countries watched it, what perceptions would they potentially come away with?
For kids who love drama
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.