Raamla Mohamed has been a TV lover since the days of T.G.I.F. She got her start as a producer's assistant on Grey's Anatomy, where she soaked up the star power at each table read. From there, she worked on the writing team for Scandal and eventually became a supervising producer. Next was writing for the series Little Fires Everywhere, which earned her an Emmy nomination.
Cut to her latest project, Reasonable Doubt, which follows successful lawyer Jax Stewart (played by Emayatzy Corinealdi). Mohamed is Doubt's showrunner, which is streaming now on Hulu, and an executive producer alongside Kerry Washington and Larry Wilmore.
As part of EW's Game Changers series, we sat down with the showrunner to discuss working for Shonda Rhimes, how to ignore the haters and why she dreams of working with Beyoncé in the future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What sparked your interest in working in the entertainment industry?
RAAMLA MOHAMED: I went to Columbia and I majored in English and film studies. And I actually thought that I would be a film professor or some kind of film scholar because I was so interested in how film history connected with actual history. And then I started working in theater in New York after I graduated. I saw all these plays and I was like maybe I could write. But I didn't really understand that it was a career. I didn't really know what it was about. And, dating myself, there weren't, like, blogs. Showrunners and creators have a voice and have a forum to talk about their process, but we really didn't have an insight into that for so long. And even someone like me, I started subscribing to Entertainment Weekly when I was 13. For me it was more like being a fan of television, versus, "Oh, this is gonna be my job." So then I applied to USC film school for writing. I did that program for a couple of years. I started then as a PA at Grey's Anatomy, which was my favorite show at the time. It was season six. And they had just promoted their PA's to writers assistants. That's kind of what started my career, it was really amazing.
Calvin Leonard; Hulu Raamla Mohamed; 'Reasonable Doubt'
What was it like working on Grey's Anatomy?
I'll never forget on Grey's Anatomy, we got to go to the table reads. Seeing Ellen Pompeo do the voiceover. And then, when Patrick Dempsey read his lines I was like a kid in a candy store. I was like, here they are in real life, just doing it. I got to sit in the writers' room a couple times. It was the first time I really felt like, "Oh, this is what I wanna do, this is so me."
Do you still watch Grey's?
I actually don't. I try to catch it when I can, but I got to like season 12 or something but then I fell behind. I do try to watch episodes when I can. I still am devastated by when they killed McDreamy. I mean, it was an amazing episode, but I remember I had plans that evening and I canceled them because I was crying.
Did you see yourself making a show like Reasonable Doubt when you first started out in the industry?
No. I think it's because I saw how much hard work it was to be a showrunner, in a good way. It wasn't glamorized for me. Sometimes people are like, "I want my own show, and it'll be awesome." I was like, "I'm good! I think I'll just be a writer, that job's hard enough." It took me time to really understand how to pitch in the writers' room. That was probably the weakest part of my skills. So for me, I just really spent the first few years trying to get the rhythm of the writers' room. And it felt really fast, all of the writers on Scandal were very smart and very talented. It wasn't really until I was on Little Fires Everywhere and I was a co-executive producer where I said maybe I could see myself having my own show. And I started developing and getting ideas. I think once you start connecting with your own voice and what you want to do, it does get more exciting. The creative part takes over where you're like, yes I do want to put a show out there that is entertaining.
Why do you feel this story about Jax Stewart in Reasonable Doubt is important to tell right now?
As someone who, like I said, watches a lot of TV, I always feel like white characters or male characters get to be very complex, and a lot of times either female characters or characters of color — or both — don't really get to have that. We either are extreme villains or heroes. This woman Jax, she's perfect at her job, but her love life is crazy. I haven't really seen like a Black drama that gets to that complexity on television. You know, obviously there's comedies. I think Courtney Kemp has done a great job of creating like Black characters with a lot of depth. I really wanted to see a woman who looked like me and my friends, someone who is balancing not just a career, but being a good friend, being a good partner. I don't have kids, but I have friends who are trying to be a good mom and a good daughter. I kind of just wanted to just put a lens up and say, "Look, here's a woman who seemingly has it all, but it's not easy and she has challenges. You win one part of the day and then you fail another, and you just have to keep going."
Which past projects of your own or others projects that you've loved inspired this project?
I'd say every show that I've worked on was such a learning experience for me. Working for Shonda Rhimes and just learning. She's such an amazing storyteller, and so in tune with how the audience is going to react and also good at knowing that character comes first. So I learned a lot of those skills on top of what I learned from going to USC.
Are there any TV shows that you watched growing up that inspired your work today?
I was a huge Beverly Hills 90210 fan. I've seen every episode all the way to the end. And also Felicity, I loved Felicity. It was fun when Scott Foley came to Scandal because I was a huge fan. Even though I'm a drama writer, I loved watching comedy. I loved watching T.G.I.F., Family Matters and Perfect Strangers, Friends, Seinfeld, The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince, A Different World. I was an only child so it was me and the TV, we became real good friends. And music is important to me on the show as well. I scripted in the songs in that I wanted to be played.
Are there any actresses or female showrunners that inspired you, then and now?
Debbie Allen, when she was doing A Different World. I was like, "Wow, she just seems so cool." Obviously she's an amazing dancer, but also a director and creative person. And then I got really fortunate that she directed two of my Scandal episodes, and so I got to actually be on set with her. She just is so talented. And of course, Shonda. They make it look so easy and I know it's not easy.
Is there anyone in particular you'd like to work with in the future?
Oh, Beyoncé. Beyoncé is a Virgo and I'm a Virgo. Beyoncé has really helped us Virgos, I think people have more respect for what Virgos bring to the table. And the Obamas, they've gotten into entertainment. That would just be a dream.
Do you have any words of encouragement for women and women of color who want to break into the entertainment industry?
It can often feel, especially if you don't have the connections or you feel like you may not have the experience, you could feel like: Is this a place where you can belong or where you can thrive? I really do feel like it is. I think there are more shows, more opportunities and more spaces for us that we're creating ourselves. If you keep going, if you keep writing and networking and applying to different programs and doing the work, I truly believe that will happen for you. I think that the key is to not have a timetable of saying like, if it doesn't happen in a year, then I'm not going to do it. Because what I've seen for the most part is that how long it takes for someone to break in isn't necessarily a factor of how successful they are. Sometimes it takes people a year, sometimes it takes people 10 years. It takes a lot of perseverance, hard work and ignoring the haters.
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