Hot TV Trend: Projects Tackling Race

Lena Waithe, Idris Elba and John Ridley are working on projects at Showtime, Justin Simien's 'Dear White People' is a go at Netflix, and Whoopi Goldberg is teaming with Bravo for a potential drama about a Harlem Crime Boss.
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Whoopi Goldberg, John Ridley

The country's racial tensions have moved beyond the news hour to become a subject du jour in primetime.

Showtime revealed Feb. 17 that it is developing The Ali Summit, a limited series about the momentous June 4, 1967, gathering of 11 of the nation's top black athletes (plus Ohio state representative Carl Stokes) to vet and ultimately to support Muhammad Ali's conscientious objection to the Vietnam War draft. The drama, from Jeff and Michael Zimbalist (The Two Escobars), is the latest scripted project explicitly to tackle the topic of race relations in the U.S. and, to a lesser degree, abroad.

Two other such projects already are a go at Showtime: Lena Waithe's coming-of-age drama The Chi, set on Chicago's South Side, and the 1970s London-set Guerrilla, a six-part series about the Black Power Desk, the real-life counter-intelligence unit dedicated to crushing all forms of black activism. Bowing in April, the drama co-stars Idris Elba, an executive producer alongside John Ridley, who has garnered multiple Emmy nominations for his ongoing work tackling race on ABC's American Crime. "When people ask me what I did, I'm not going to say, 'I sat on the fence,' " Ridley said at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in January. "Certainly, as a storyteller, this is all I can do. I will continue to do it."

Also in the pipeline are Fox's Shots Fired, a 10-part event series premiering March 22 about a racially charged police shooting. In an attempt to elevate the project from Love & Basketball's Gina Prince-Bythewood, the contemporary mini was previewed at Sundance. Netflix, meanwhile, has a 10-episode comedy based on Justin Simien's Dear White People, and Bravo has teamed with Whoopi Goldberg for a potential drama about a Harlem crime boss and her politically ambitious son, who passes for white. These will look to join established series including ABC's Black-ish and WGN America hit Underground, with the latter set to introduce abolitionist Harriet Tubman (played by Aisha Hinds) in season two, which bows March 8. 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.