By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
They are middle class families of color who have chosen to live in the suburbs so their kids can grow up in a more secure environment, with greater access to opportunities. But for the teenagers in these families, the idyllic suburban lifestyle is anything but. These teens are targets – surveilled and harassed by the local police and hit with petty drug charges.
It’s the unintended outcome of the war on drugs, a longstanding cornerstone of a criminal justice system that was supposed to make people feel safer but instead can become distorted, catching up all kinds of people in its wake. The resulting consequences are bigger than any single person or institution – the cops, the courts, the school administrators and, of course, the kids – particularly those teenagers who don’t look like their classmates and neighbors.
This is the premise of “The System,” a powerful new dramatic series whose pilot episode is now streaming on kweliTV. Starring an ensemble cast, including Ashley Olivia Fisher (Donna) and Daniel Puig (Daniel), “The System” reframes the war on drugs outside of the familiar world of cartels, traffickers and gang wars. Mixing the teenage angst of “Degrassi High” with the gritty suspense of a crime thriller, “The System” presents a dark underbelly of suburban life in America most people never see – and don’t want to see.
As the series moves on, the teens begin to discover that they can also make the system work for them, instead of against them. They start to uncover the secrets behind the so-called “War on Drugs” and learn to fight back – at school, in the courts and through the very political system that has led to their entanglement in the first place.
Each 30-minute episode has a unique structure. It begins with a climactic incident, then the rest of the episode goes back in time to see what led to that point. At the end, viewers return to the opening moments – now seeing those moments from a different perspective. This same structure is also employed across the arc of the entire 10-episode season, with a cliffhanger leading into Season Two.
Executive producer of “The System” is Howard Bowler. “As the father of a mixed-race son, I have seen firsthand what happens to these kids, as young as preteens, when they are stopped, frisked and handcuffed,” said Bowler. “The ugly, painful details I discovered became the basis for this series. We want to expose the truth and we feel a dramatic series, hard hitting and true to life, is the best way to do it.”
The pilot episode shows the young Black lady attempting to drive to an event and the white cop stops her for seemingly no reason. It highlights the need for Black parents who have tried to make better lives for their families to not drop the ball when it comes to preparing their teens for what might happen outside of their spacious suburban homes at the hands of overzealous law officers.
For a trailer of the pilot episode, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7zYJ7r_X9c. For more information, visit http://kweliTV.com, which is a streaming service that celebrates Black stories from around the world through independent films, documentaries, web shows, kids programming and events. Kweli means truth in Swahili, and the service’s mission is to curate content that is a true reflection of the global Black experience. The global Black community refers to the communities throughout the world of African descent who are comprised of unique culture and histories from North America, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, firstname.lastname@example.org.