Kerry Washington Hopes 'UnPrisoned' Makes Viewers 'Think Differently About Returning Citizens'
The actress told Parade, "We've never seen this story in this way before."
Kerry Washington is shining a light on how the criminal justice system impacts not only formerly incarcerated individuals, but also their loved ones.
The Scandal alum stars in Onyx Collective’s new dramedy UnPrisoned, which was inspired by author Tracy McMillan's life. The series follows the emotional journey of Paige (Washington) and her father Edwin (Delroy Lindo), who moves in with her and her teenage son, Finn (Faly Rakotohavana), after being released from prison.
"I know that we've told stories about what it's like for people to go into prison and what it's like inside prison," Washington tells Parade in an exclusive interview. "But what we're trying to do is tell this story, to explore this experience of a family where there's a returning citizen, a person who is, you know, a formerly incarcerated person trying to reenter their family's life and to all get unprisoned together. Not just the physical unprisoning, but the unprisoning of their hearts and minds."
Washington hopes UnPrisoned—premiering March 10 on Hulu—makes viewers "think differently" about returning citizens and their families, and also think about how the justice system affects both the people in the system and "the people who love them, and how we need to do better."
Continue reading for more on UnPrisoned and what Kerry Washington told Parade about her own charming father.
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What drew you to this project ?
I've been a fan of Tracy McMillan's. We've sort of had friends in common over the years and I followed her on Instagram and I know her show Family or Fiancé. I just was a fan of hers. I knew that she had written a book, but I had never read it. And I heard that she was writing this show. I read the script. I was obsessed immediately. I think she's so talented and I think her life is so interesting. She's such a miracle of being [laughs] you know, and her story was so captivating. And also I realized, "Wow, we've never seen this story in this way before," which is incredible because there are 80 million Americans living with criminal records.
And so for each of those people, there's a circle of loved ones around them, family members and friends, and so all of those people have been impacted by the criminal justice system. So I know that we've told stories about what it's like for people to go into prison and what it's like inside prison, but what we're trying to do is tell this story, to explore this experience of a family where there's a returning citizen, a person who is, you know, a formerly incarcerated person trying to reenter their family's life and to all get unprisoned together. Not just the physical unprisoning, but the unprisoning of their hearts and minds. All of that was so exciting for me. It's really been a privilege to work on this show and to tell the story of this family.
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What do you hope UnPrisoned inspires viewers to do, or feel after watching?
I hope that people laugh. I hope that people get invited to love more deeply... I think all the characters on the show are really trying to do better and be better for themselves and others and I hope people ask that question of themselves. I hope it makes people curious about things like inner child work and abandonment issues and attachment theory and just, you know, those kinds of introspective psychological ideas. I hope it makes people curious about growing in those ways, but fundamentally, I hope that it makes people think differently about returning citizens and their families. I hope that it makes us think about, you know, what the justice system, how it impacts not just people in the system, but the people who love them, and how we need to do better.
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Did your character Paige resonate with you in any way?
Yeah, there's a lot about Paige that resonates with me. I love that she's somebody who's really, you know, invested in trying to be her best self, but doesn't always know how to do that. I identify with that a lot. I really love her relationship with her father. You know, I too have a dad that is like really charming and we love to laugh together. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have a dad who's extremely charming and funny and that I love very dearly.
All relationships with parents are complicated. They're complex relationships. They are, you know, where we come from, but that love, that laughter is so core. That's what Paige and Edwin have, too.
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UnPrisoned shows, and your character even says, that nobody is a perfect parent. As a parent yourself, what did you learn from working on the show?
One of the things I also identify with Paige is that she is this kind of sandwich generation that so many of us are right now, right, where like she has parents, she's both a daughter and a mother and she's figuring out how to love more and better in both directions. And she's trying to figure out how to, you know, wrap her head around the dynamics with her father so that she can be a better mother. And I don't mean that she wants to be a better mother than he was a father, but she wants to do her best. She wants to understand kind of what her trauma has- how her trauma has impacted her so that she's not passing that trauma onto her child and I identify with that process as well.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.