This past Wednesday, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall buzzed with press and photographers as attendees dressed in their midweek best mingled before the start of ABC’s screening of its new show For Life.
The hour-long scripted drama, created by Hank Steinberg and executive produced by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, is inspired by the real life of Isaac Wright Jr., a man wrongfully convicted and given a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
Starring Nicholas Pinnock as protagonist Aaron Wallace, Joy Bryant as his estranged wife Marie, and Boris McGiver as District Attorney Glen Maskins, For Life documents Wallace’s rise as a jailhouse attorney fighting to return to his family.
As the cast walked the carpet and smiled for cameras, Wright quietly entered the fray wearing a blue suit with his jet black hair tied in a low, braided ponytail. The man who lived the story ABC is now telling, spoke to Complex about the opportunity to tell his story to a larger audience.
“I was elated,” Wright said of learning about the show. “I knew what [For Life] would mean if it was successful. I knew that it meant my story, which started in a prison cell was going to end in the households of millions of people across the country.”
Activist Tamika Mallory also attended the screening and praised ABC for helping to bring the conversation about mass incarceration into America’s living rooms.
“I think that having partners like ABC in moments like this is huge because there was a time when having these partners that are so diverse and that have such a monopoly, if you will, in the industry, we didn’t have that in the past. So as people begin to see the struggles that we’re dealing with and through the voices of activists and leaders and people who are really beating the drum, we’re stretching our wings if you will, and touching markets that haven’t been touched before.”
Guests enjoyed cocktails, small bites, and popcorn before entering the auditorium to screen the George Tillman Jr.-directed pilot episode, which begins with Wallace’s first day in court going up against the lawyer who helped put him behind bars.
“How did you get here?” he asks Wallace.
“Hard work and good will. What’s your method?” Wallace responds.
And while attendees remained silent throughout the screening, a round of applause erupted at the close of the episode.
Attorney and CNN political commentator Van Jones was on hand to host a panel discussion afterward and spoke to the timeliness of For Life.
“I am very happy about this show because it’s about time that TV start showing some stuff that actually happens,” he told Complex. “We’ve got aliens and superheroes, which I love, but that never happens. People go to prison every day because they don’t have a good lawyer, they don’t have enough money, because they have the wrong skin color, they’re from the wrong neighborhood, and it needs to be shown. This show will open your eyes. There’s no way you can watch this show and come away the same.”
Wright, 50 Cent, the show’s executive producers, and a few cast members also took to the stage to discuss the life changes that occur when a loved one is incarcerated, the emotional toll it takes on their family and community, and life behind bars.
Bryant said it wasn’t difficult for her to prepare for this role due to her close connection with incarceration.
“I have loved ones who were incarcerated and I have two close girlfriends who had partners who were incarcerated, so when I read the script I connected with it organically. We can’t predict what people are going to take away from the show, but it’s the right show at the right time,” she said.
While describing how he prepared for his role, Pinnock elicited a few wows from the audience. After guests finished watching him play an incarcerated New Yorker, they were pleasantly surprised to learn he’s actually British.
“Oh my God,” one attendee whispered.
As Van Jones wrapped up the panel he instructed guests to share the news about For Life with friends and family.
“Tell everyone!" he said.
For Life premieres Tuesday, February 11 on ABC.