By Zach Johnson
In Reasonable Doubt, the truth belongs to those who twist it.
Onyx Collective’s highly anticipated first scripted series, premiering Tuesday, September 27, on Hulu, centers on Jax Stewart (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a brilliant and fearless defense attorney in Los Angeles who bucks the justice system whenever possible. Sure, her ethics are questionable, and her interpretations of the law are debatable, but people want her in their corner if (or when) they get into trouble.
With Reasonable Doubt, however, the drama doesn’t unfold only within a courtroom. “Often, legal dramas focus on the professional, and there’s a little bit of personal,” says writer and executive producer Raamla Mohamed, who leads the show’s all-Black writers room. “But I think what separates the show is that it’s about a woman who’s balancing all the things that women have to balance: her career, her friendships, her marriage, her kids. It’s all of those things that, as women, we have to coordinate and figure out. The great thing about it is that you get to see her have a really full life. Sometimes she wins in one part of her life, and then sometimes she wins in another part—just like women do. We’re just trying to win and one, and hopefully it works out.”
According to Mohamed, Corinealdi—best known for her award-winning turn as Ruby in the 2012 indie drama Middle of Nowhere—was the only person who could bring a character such as Jax to life. “We had a lot of people come in to audition—a lot of wonderful, amazing actresses,” Mohamed recalls. “Honestly, just talking about it gets me emotional, because she clearly was Jax. There was no question in any of our minds that she encapsulated both who Jax needed to be and who I wanted to see on screen.”
Reasonable Doubt is produced by ABC Signature, a part of Disney Television Studios, with Simpson Street’s Kerry Washington and Pilar Savone and Wilmore Films’ Larry Wilmore all serving as executive producers. Washington also directs the first episode.
“Raamla was a big part of the reason why I wanted to do the show,” Washington says. “We’ve grown up together in this business. She was a research assistant on Season 1 of Scandal, and we lived through that show together, and then we did Little Fires Everywhere. Raamla’s big, bold, risk-taking, adventurous mind was the big draw. And also, the woman who inspired the show, [co-executive producer] Shawn Holley, is really special and dynamic. When I met her, I got so excited about working on a show that would explore some of the complexities of her work and her life. I knew it would be really, really challenging to find somebody who could play this character as written by Raamla, but Emayatzy actually solved that problem for us; hiring her was a no-brainer.”
Jax is a nuanced character, and as such, Corinealdi appreciated how Mohamed gave her the freedom to experiment. “Raamla was so clear in her point of view, and also so giving within that point of view,” Corinealdi says. “She left the room for us to explore and find things. That’s what made it interesting. One of my favorite things about Jax is that she has all of these different circles she’s in, and she keeps some of them pretty separate, but you get to see her live her life in a way that’s not particularly all together. As Raamla said, ‘That’s life.’ She wrote a woman who is capable of trying to figure all of these things out—and who is willing and has the courage to fail at them at the same time. That’s what I like seeing on television, and I don’t think we have a lot of that.”