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Oprah On How Ex-Prisoner Series 'Released' Tells Stories Of Redemption

The media mogul, who serves as an executive producer on the OWN series, says the new show that follows former inmates as they return home tells stories of redemption.

Oprah Winfrey loves to read, but she spent a year putting off Shaka Senghor’s book Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in An American Prison before she picked up the book based on the author’s life. And when she did, the media mogul was so moved by Senghor's story that she set up a meeting with him, which she calls “one of the best interviews of my life."

While speaking on a panel for the OWN docuseries Released at the Tribeca TV Festival, Winfrey said she asked Senghor, as she does with all of her interview subjects, what his intentions were for that interview. His response was that he “wanted people to know that you weren’t your biggest mistake.” Winfrey and Senghor are both firm believers that “everybody has the ability retell their story and to be redeemed.” And so the concept behind Released was born.

The project follows six individuals that have recently been released from prison and their families. The pilot episode introduces three of the main subjects featured on the series. Each individual was incarcerated for different offenses, but they all share the same experience of living behind bars and trying to stay out of prison once they have been released.

Executive producer Jon Sinclair said that the main intent of Released is to “humanize this issue of mass incarceration of African-Americans in America" and show that there is a human behind the label of an ex-prisoner. When it came to finding former inmates to follow, Sinclair said, “We wanted to pick characters that could bring that story to light.”

Showrunner and executive producer Keayr Braxton said Released is different than any other show about incarceration because it doesn’t focus on what it’s like inside prison, but instead looks “at what happens once people come out," specifically the often-overlooked experience of how people in this situation navigate re-entering the real world. Braxton reflected on how “incredibly powerful” all of the characters release days were. “Those first days out are just roller coasters,” she said.

Winfrey found it incredibly important that Senghor act as a consulting producer on the series, since he experienced the stories told onscreen firsthand. Senghor said watching the release process of the series' subjects “validated a lot of feelings that I had coming home.” In the first episode, which was screened ahead of the panel, one of the former prisoners, Kevin, stares in awe at the selection of candy offered at an airport convenience store. At first he is excited by the large variety in candy, but then becomes overwhelmed because the majority of the food options are new to him. “When you come back to a world that you’ve been gone from for two decades, it’s a very different world,” Senghor said.

Braxton argued that Released goes further than the experiences of six former inmates. “We really do feel like these are family stories and not just the one person that’s coming home,” she said. The series does not shy away from how a loved one's release from prison is a transitional time for all those involved. "Everyone is impacted by the absence, and everyone must readjust," Braxton said.

“I believe redemption is possible for almost everybody,” Winfrey said while discussing the importance of the series. Released intends to go beyond the stereotype of what it means to be a reformed convict and instead show that many people deserve to be forgiven. Senghor added, "I'm a firm believer that most of us have some type of faith, and a cornerstone of faith, to me, is redemption is possible.”

Released premieres Saturday, Sept. 30, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on OWN.

This article was originally published on The Hollywood Reporter.

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The Game Reboot Lands At Paramount+ Streaming Service

A revival of the BET’s The Game is officially in development under the ViacomCBS digital subscription streaming service Paramount+, which was originally branded as CBS All Access.

The series reboot was announced on Tuesday (Sept. 15), along with a list of original and rebooted shows headed for the streaming outlet which includes a limited series chronicling the making of The Godfather, a new edition of VH1’s Behind the Music, and the true crime docuseries, The Real Criminal Minds. The programming will join CBS All Access’ list of more than 20,000 episodes and movies across BET, MTV, CBS, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, and more.

Although no details have been released about The Game revival, the series will fall under BET’s Paramount+ programming from CBS Television Studios and Garment Productions. It’s unclear if any of the show's original cast members like, Tia Mowry, Pooch Hall, and Wendy Raquel Robinson, will be involved in the new installment.

The hit sports series was created by Mara Brock Akil, as a spinoff of her other hit sitcom, Girlfriends. Akil recently inked an overall deal with Netflix to develop new projects for the streamer. The company also acquired the rights to Girlfriends, Sister, Sister, Moesha, and The Parkers.

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50 Cent Developing Starz Series About Beef With The Game

Add a couple more credits to 50 Cent’s long list of TV projects. The rapper-turned-TV-producer inked a deal to develop two new series for Starz, one of which will explore his feud with The Game, the cable network announced on Monday (Sept. 14).

The seasonal anthology series tentatively titled, Moment in Time: The Massacre, chronicles “true stories in which iconic hip hop moments collided with the sensational and sometimes criminal events behind the scenes.” Season one focuses on the beef between Fif and Game that “led to an all-street war, pitting G-Unit against music impresario Jimmy Henchman.”

Henchman, The Game’s former manager, is currently serving life for the murder-for-hire of a G-Unit affiliate. Moment in Time will be written and executive produced by Abdul William, who penned The Bobby Brown Story, The New Edition Story, Lottery Ticket, and Lifetime’s forthcoming Salt-N-Pepa mini series.

Inspired by the life of sports agent and attorney Nicole Lynn, who serves as executive producer, the second series follows a Black female sports agent’s rise up the ranks in the male dominated industry of sports agents. Tash Grey will produce the series and pen the script. Grey’s notable credits include the Power spinoff Raising Kanan, Snowfall, P-Valley, and the true-crime drama, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.

Both series will be executive produced by 50 Cent and his G-Unit Film & Television imprint.

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Netflix Acquires ‘Malcolm & Marie’ Starring Zendaya, John David Washington

Netflix has acquired the rights to the film Malcolm & Marie staring Zendaya and John David Washington in a $30 million deal during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The streaming giant beat out HBO, Amazon, Searchlight, Apple and MGM among others in a bidding war over the film, Deadline reports.

Shot on 35mm black and white film, Malcolm & Marie, tells the story of a filmmaker (portrayed by Washington) who returns home with his girlfriend after a celebrating the premiere of his latest movie. Things take a turn as revelations about the couple’s relationship rise to the surface, changing the mood of the evening.

Malcolm & Marie pic.twitter.com/99RWzgLFbD

— Zendaya (@Zendaya) July 8, 2020

Malcolm & Marie was written, directed and produced by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, who penned the script in less than a week. Aside from starring in the romantic drama, Zendaya and Washington serve as executive producers on the project.

“I am so grateful to this cast and crew, many of whom are my ‘Euphoria’ family, for coming together during such uncertain times,” Levinson said in a statement. “We felt privileged to be able to make this film together and we did so with a lot of love. We are all thrilled that it has ended up with Netflix which is unparalleled in allowing filmmakers the freedom to tell their stories that reach audiences all over the world.”

The film was shot amid the COVID-19 pandemic at a quarantine location in California in mid-June. Over the course of the two week shoot, heavy precautions were taken to ensure the health and safety of the cast and crew including social distancing, increased sanitary measures, and daily temperature checks.

Netflix’s acquisition of Malcolm & Marie follows an onslaught of TIFF films scooped up by  the company, with Halle Berry’s Bruised among the lot. The film marks Berry’s directorial debut and was sold to Netflix for a reported $20 million.

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