Courtney B. Vance Says '61st Street’ Shows How 'Truly Broken' Our System Still Is (Exclusive)

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There's a healthy dose of reality in AMC's thrilling new drama series, 61st Street, and star Courtney B. Vance believes it's necessary.

The Emmy-winning actor spoke with ET's Kevin Frazier about the hard-hitting drama, which follows a promising Chicago high school athlete who gets swept up into the criminal justice system when he's wrongfully taken by the police as a gang member. The series dives deep into the dark heart of the infamous Chicago criminal justice system as the police and prosecutors investigating a deadly drug bust seek revenge for the death of an officer that threatens to unravel the police department’s code of silence.

Vance portrays Franklin Roberts, whom the actor says is "a public defender [for] 30 years about to retire in two weeks." He explains that his character's wife Martha, played by Oscar-nominee Aunjanue Ellis, desires that her husband retire so he can spend more time with their family. But before he can officially retire, he gets caught up in the eye of the storm, defending his new client, Moses Johnson (Tosin Cole).

"As an honest man, you get to see how broken the system is for beige, brown and Black [folks]," Vance stated. "It just doesn't work." 

Vance, who shares two children with his wife Angela Bassett, noted that as parents of Black children, there's a harsh truth that they have to speak with their kids about dealing with the police.

"We have to have those talks with our children about encounters with the police, you know? And people will see in this series, eventually, I cross-examine the lieutenant on this show and I ask him, 'Have you had that talk with your children? Your sons?' And he said, no. I asked, why not? He said, 'It's not necessary,'" Vance recalled.

"There it is, right there. That we have to, in 2022 still, have to have the talk," the actor added. "'Cause, the issues are still the same as they were when I was growing up, when my father was growing up [and] my grandfather was growing up. The police can do what they want and there's no excuse. I mean, the fact that with George Floyd, the camera was on [Derek Chauvin] and he still wouldn't take his knee off his neck with someone filming. That lets you know that in their minds, it doesn't matter 'cause, 'We rule here and my boys will get me off. Whatever I'm doing, I'm [going to] get off.'"

The actor shared that although he believes there are "great policemen and women" who do their job, he feels that nothing can be changed until "a trust can be built." 

61st Street airs Sundays at 10 pm ET/PT on AMC and will be available one week early on AMC+ and ALLBLK. 

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