‘Unprisoned’ Star Kerry Washington and Showrunner Yvette Lee Bowser on How the Show Is an ‘American Story About Healing’
The cast of Hulu’s latest dramedy “Unprisoned” kept the family spirit alive at the show’s premiere at the Hollywood Legion Theater on Thursday night.
The show’s cast and crew — including Kerry Washington, Delroy Lindo, Faly Rakotohavana, Marque Richardson, Jee Young Han, Jordyn McIntosh, showrunner Yvette Lee Bowser and creator Tracy McMillan — examined what it means to be a “traditional” family on the red carpet before a screening of the first two episodes.
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The series follows relationship therapist and single mom Paige (Washington), “whose life is turned right-side-up when her dad (Lindo) gets out of prison and moves to her house to live with her and her teenage son,” according to the show’s official synopsis.
“I wanted to show a family that every person in America would identify with, even though they’re facing very specific circumstances,” McMillan told Variety. “This is at its heart, a father-daughter story. It’s a story about a woman with a teenage son who’s trying to repair the relationship with her dad and everyone can relate to that.”
That’s certainly something showrunner Yvette Lee Bowser could relate to as she tells Variety, “My father is an Edwin, so I know this guy.”
She added, “I really, really understood it on a personal level and felt like it wasn’t just my story and her story, but our story — an American story about healing.”
But the “Living Single” creator says what ultimately sold her was “the kind of authenticity and honesty with which Tracy wanted to tell the story and the amazing actors that were attached in Delroy and Kerry.”
Indeed, the family at the center of McMillan’s story is anything but traditional, but the feelings explored throughout the season’s various situations can tug at the heartstrings of anyone.
“Breaking the stories was a super cathartic challenge for all of us. It was really, really emotional,” Bowser said. “Our writer’s room was on Zoom, and it was also a very safe space and there was a lot of emotion in the ideation for the show. You can only wish as a producer that that comes across on screen, that you have that translation from the page to the stage and the cast elevated the material at every turn.”
Before she walked inside to join the audience, Washington reflected on the importance of humanizing the experience of those formerly incarcerated through storytelling.
“We tell a lot of stories about what it’s like to go in, what it’s like on the inside — but really excavating the journey of being a returning citizen, of trying to reenter into society is so important. And telling the stories of what it’s like to love somebody who’s a formerly incarcerated person is so important,” Washington said. “I think this family’s such a great example because they are really trying to love each other and be the best they can and I’m so inspired by the characters on the show.”
Washington has now collaborated on both of Onyx Collective’s original scripted series. The multi-hyphenate also serves as an executive producer and directed the pilot episode for Raamla Mohamed’s “Reasonable Doubt.” (Washington and Mohammed previously worked together on ABC’s “Scandal” and again on Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere.”)
“I’m really proud that Onyx Collective exists and I’m proud to be a part of it. I think uplifting voices of people of color is so important and obviously relevant for who I am. I’m just thrilled to be a part of expanding inclusivity of the Disney ecosystem,” Washington added.
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