Sunday's episode of Showtime's House of Lies partly inspired by Trayvon Martin shooting
When it comes to issues of race on modern television, it seems today’s TV creators are far too willing to avoid the conversation.
That’s why its was so amazing to watch an early screener of Sunday night’s episode of Showtime’s House of Lies – a superbly-acted showcase for star Don Cheadle which executive producer Matt Carnahan says was inspired, in part, by the Trayvon Martin shooting.
I don’t want to give away what happens during the episode. And I encourage you not to take the Trayvon connection too literally.
But the episode itself delves into the complicated angst Cheadle’s slick corporate management consultant Marty Kaan feels about his own racial identity. As a black man succeeding in a white-dominated world, he faces a choice Sunday which will push him to pick between being a stand up brother or a stand up executive.
And even if you think you know what Kaan’s capable of, his final choice may surprise you.
“(Marty) has an uncomfortable relationship with a lot of aspects of who he is; his race being one of them,” said Carnahan. “I don’t think he’s necessarily one of those guys who hates himself for his race. But I think he is sometimes in denial of his racial identity.”
It’s a delicious irony for a character whose father named him for civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., while his younger, more militant (and full of BS ) brother was named for Malcolm X.
Carnahan said inspiration for the epsiode’s twists first came from a conversation with Cheadle days after the Trayvon Martin shooting became a national story.
“(It was) about that conversation that, at some point, happens between an African American father and son where you say ‘You’ve gotta be aware of what you look like and how the world perceives you,’” Carnahan said. “I was portraying it as this heavy sit-down. (But Cheadle said) by the time you get to that conversation, you’re like, ‘Dad, I know.’ You’ve already been followed in department stores and profiled. I thought it was a worthwhile discussion to bring into the world of the character.”
Edgy conversations are the norm on premium cable outlets such as Showtime. Still, the list of shows which could talk about race and choose mostly not to – from AMC’s Mad Men to NBC’s Deception – greatly outnumber the ones tackling a subject so volatile, a bad script could make everyone angry.
“We’ve really gone backward….this used to be a discussion you could have on TV,” Carnahan said, recalling the great Norman Lear sitcoms of years past, such as All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Maude. To me, it’s baffling. Forget about any political responsibility or moving the ball forward down the field socially. Just as a selfish creator of narrative, (exploring racial issues) is like standing next to a gold mine…why not mine that material?”
I hope to put up a post analyzing the episode in more detail after it airs. So check out House of Lies on Sunday and report back here to really delve into this.