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Director Pete Chatmon Talks ‘Reasonable Doubt,’ Perseverance and Diversity in Storytelling

Photo Credit - IG: PeteChatmon

The last few years have seen a noticeable increase in Black television and film content, and award-winning director, producer, and writer Pete Chatmon is a key proponent of this resurgence. Over the course of his career, Chatmon has directed episodes of some of our favorite shows, including Black-ish, Grey’s Anatomy, and Insecure to name a few. He takes on the role as co-executive producer for his latest project, Reasonable Doubt, a new series streaming on Hulu that stars Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Ealy, McKinley Freeman, and Sean Patrick Thomas, and is executive-produced by actor and director Kerry Washington.

Chatmon’s interest in directing was sparked while attending a film program as part of his high school’s curriculum. Although the program consisted of one class focused on the fundamentals of film, it didn’t take long for Chatmon to realize he had an instinct for film language. Some of his early film choices during the class were well-received by his teacher, which was all the confirmation he needed to pursue directing. He decided to apply to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which boasts notable alumni Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone.

Pete Chatmon - Photo Credit: Jameel Saleem

“When I enrolled at NYU, my focus was to direct, but I started writing to have things to direct. I started producing because I needed to have somebody coordinate what I wrote to direct. And I would act in those things because the producer in me knew that would save money,” reflects Chatmon. His studies at the university culminated in a thesis film that starred Washington and qualified for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. “So it’s been a decades-long full circle experience, coming back to this moment of Reasonable Doubt [and working with Kerry].”

Photo Credit: Hulu

Chatmon’s latest collaboration with Washington follows the story of Jax Stewart (played by Corinealdi), an L.A.-based attorney who balances the intricacies of her family, personal life and a high-profile murder case. She navigates the unique realities of the Black female experience, including the struggles of her children, who are dealing with her separation from her husband Lewis (played by Freeman). Jax is also seemingly involved in a murder case involving a wealthy entrepreneur (played by Thomas). To further complicate things, Jax has also reconnected with Damon, a mysterious ex-con who seeks Jax’s counsel (played by Ealy).

Chatmon hints that everything may not be as described in the show’s premise, and he couldn’t resist the opportunity to become more involved in the show’s development by focusing the lens on the lives of a diverse group of people, which doesn’t happen often. “A lot of times, the world is made to seem full by having diversity in the background of the canvas, but we don't really dive into those people's lives and get to learn about their hopes, their dreams, their troubles, their conflicts, and this show really dove into that headfirst,” he shares. As a director, he knew it was critical to have a clear vision for how Jax was portrayed as a Black woman attorney. He observed Corinealdi’s approach to the role, which he considered when designing the look and feel of an episode, as she simultaneously designed the look and feel of the character to achieve the same vision.

When approaching the show’s male characters, all of whom have very different relationships with Jax, Chatmon took the opportunity to step out of the confinements of Black male stereotypes. “These male characters offer perspectives of what those three types of Black people look like and how they feel, and what the various kinds of idiosyncrasies and nuance and levels are for Black men in the same way that we're exploring those with Jax,” he explains.

Photo Credit - IG: PeteChatmon

Chatmon recognizes that increased diversity and representation in the entertainment industry is long overdue, and acknowledges that while some significant strides have been made, there’s still a lot of mining to be done to share various stories through fully realized Black characters. He also feels that Hollywood is aware of the great financial opportunity in inclusive storytelling, and the importance of having diverse voices in the room that are empowered to speak up. “You can't just be in a room and be scared to say anything; you have to know that it's a safe environment for you to potentially be checking, or better yet, educating people. That way, so many things can be avoided and so many projects can be elevated. And, there’s an audience that's waiting to be given something that engages them fully.”

In his book Transitions: A Director’s Journey and Motivational Handbook, which Chatmon describes as a combination of self-help, how-tos, and inspiration, he chronicles his thirty-year journey as a filmmaker. He encourages aspiring filmmakers to be themselves in spite of the inclination to do what the industry or the market suggests. “Transitions is the book I wish I had along the way,” he shares. “Each chapter is governed by a keyword or principle that I took away from a point in my life that is something that can be replicated by anybody, and are the kind of principles that were being developed and put into the suitcase I traveled with professionally. I feel like they are guaranteed to move the needle forward.” He also hosts a podcast, Let’s Shoot! With Pete Chatmon, where he converses with a range of filmmakers, actors, and executives about their storytelling experiences. Guests have included Rob McElhenney (It’sAlways Sunny in Philadelphia), Keith Powell (Interview with the Vampire) and Millicent Shelton (Black-ish).

When asked about upcoming projects, Chatmon shares that he will be working on a reboot of the Fatal Attraction movie, which will star Joshua Jackson, Lizzy Caplan, and Amanda Peet; HBO Max’s Minx; followed by NBC sitcom American Auto; and HBO Max’s upcoming adaptation of Deadboy Detectives. Chatmon continues to stay inspired and is excited about his busy schedule, writing his own projects and raising his daughter. “Sometimes timing is the only ingredient, right? Or the main ingredient in that you've been working on [a project] for a number of years before it becomes viable,” he muses. “I'm going to hope that's what's happening, coupled with raising my profile through doing more shows and working with more folks. I still have dreams even while living the dream at the same time.”

Check out the full interview.

You can catch new episodes of Reasonable Doubt, available every Tuesday on Hulu. Be sure to follow Pete on Instagram to stay updated on his latest projects.


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