BET is shaking the table with its new series, In Contempt. The show stars Erica Ash as Gwen Sullivan, an opinionated and passionate public defender who sincerely cares about her clients—the downtrodden who need her legal services because they can’t get the legal help they deserve. This procedural drama is out to reveal something many of us know: The justice system is an unjust system, especially for people of color.
“This show will show you exactly what happens in the justice system—how much of a disadvantage we come into the courtroom with and why so many black men are in jail,” Ash tells The Root. “This show is going to explain to you how they slipped through the cracks. This show is going to explain how we can use loopholes to get them out.”
Ash is typically known for her comedic chops—we’ve seen her shine as Bridgette in Real Husbands of Hollywood, M-Chuck in Survivor’s Remorse, a cast member on MAD TV and so much more. But, now, Ash is taking on a dramatic role with some serious intensity.
With Being Mary Jane coming to an end, it’s high time BET got another leading lady, and Ash is up for the gig: “It’s a full circle of sorts, because this is kind of like a holy grail for an actor to have their own show, right? And I’ve been working towards this for a while and I put this on my vision board, and I’ve been manifesting this and now it’s come to pass, and it just makes me feel very good.”
Ash tells me that In Contempt has been 10 years in the making: “BET sort of loved the idea, but held it because of whatever reason, and I feel it’s because they were waiting on just the right cast, just the right mix, and then maybe it was waiting for me? Maybe I was waiting for it?”
Ash’s character is a complicated one, and we all know that makes for good entertainment. Gwen Sullivan is headstrong and all-in when it comes to work, but with that passion comes stress. Some of that stress comes from dealing with her hard-to-please father, former Judge Earl Sullivan, who is played by Richard Lawson.
“She’s all about the people. It’s not that I’m not about the people; it’s just the way you do it. She chooses to do it from the trenches, and I think she can do it from the penthouse,” says Lawson.
Along with keeping up the good fight to make sure innocent people of color stay free and managing her relationship with her father, Gwen must also juggle office distractions like fine-ass Charlie (Christian Keyes), a quick-witted and not-to-be-taken-too-seriously attorney who is super talented but has an ego; Vanessa (Mouna Traoré), an uptight, rookie lawyer from a privileged background; and Bennett (Tobias Truvillion), her former law professor and “the one who got away.”
“It’s an exciting time for me because it’s not all that great to be black in America right now, but it’s real great to be black in Hollywood. We’re finally starting to get the recognition that we’ve always deserved to have,” Ash candidly gushes.
Lawson brings it all home for those who may be on the fence about watching the show.
“This TV series can create tremendous change in our world today, especially when the conditions are the way they are. This could be a revolutionary show,” he says. “It could really get people to wake up and to do something. I’m excited to watch.”
Watch BET’s In Contempt on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, starting today, April 10.