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'Clipped': Donald Sterling's racist comments revisited in show with Ed O'Neill, Cleopatra Coleman and Laurence Fishburne

"You have to try to tell a deeper story, beyond reenactment," creator and showrunner Gina Welch said

In 2014, the sports world went into a frenzy when recordings of then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling were posted online, in which he was making racist comments to his mistress and assistant V. Stiviano. Now the new show Clipped (on Disney+ in Canada), provides a retelling of this scandal (with some fictional elements), starring Ed O'Neill as Sterling and Jacki Weaver as his wife Shelley, Cleopatra Coleman as Stiviano and Laurence Fishburne as then-Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

"Our approach was really to start with the research and we had this incredible foundation in the reporting [Ramona Shelburne] had done," creator and showrunner, Gina Welch, told Yahoo Canada about balancing real-life elements with fictionalized aspects of the series. "Also, the story was written about so extensively, so we tried to read everything that had been written about the story, we also had the benefit of court transcripts and recorded conversations."

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"Then it's about internalizing the characters' points of view and voices, and you have to try to tell a deeper story, beyond reenactment. So in order to do that we created composite characters, like V's friend Deja, like Shelley's friend Justine, like a confidant for Doc Rivers, to help access what was going on inside of each of these characters. And then we tried to have a little bit of fun with the more surreal aspects of what it's like to live in L.A., which is kind of a hyper-real place where there's a juxtaposition of some very gritty things, and then some very sort of magical things."

Jacki Weaver, from left, Ed O'Neill, Cleopatra Coleman arrive at the premiere of
Jacki Weaver, from left, Ed O'Neill, Cleopatra Coleman arrive at the premiere of "Clipped" on Monday, June 3, 2024, at Regal LA Live in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

With a series like Clipped, the audience starts the show with a built-in curiosity to see how the series show the moment we heard in an audio recording, the racist comments Sterling made to V, including the reference to taking a photo with Magic Johnson at a Dodgers game.

"That's one of the elements that makes this an actual period piece, but it's also not that long ago," writer and producer Rembert Browne said. "For some people this is going to be brand new. For some people this is going to be a refresher."

"I remember hearing it for the first time and I remember already kind of understanding who Donald Sterling was, but it was still just an absolute shock to hear that. And wanting that, 'Oh my goodness' moment, I feel that was something that we wanted to carry through."

Co-director and executive producer Kevin Bray highlighted that the choice was made to start teasing elements of this moment as a way for the audience to "put all the pieces together."

"It created attention and curiosity, rather than, this is just going to be straight soup to nuts, linear presentation," Bray said. "And all that interesting stuff you saw before was leading up to this horrible, horrific representation of that event, and I thought that was a super cool way of going at it."

Welch added that at the core of that scene is showing that moment through the perspective of Stiviano, and how it impacted her.

"I think my hope for those scenes is that you're experiencing them as a moment in V's story and you'll understand the significance of that exchange, of the tape, when it hits the rest of the characters," Welch said. "But we're in V's point of view for those scenes and understanding what that conversation means to her."

Sheldon Bailey and Sarunas J. Jackson at the premiere of
Sheldon Bailey and Sarunas J. Jackson at the premiere of "Clipped" held at Regal L.A. Live on June 3, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Variety via Getty Images)

Clipped is balancing a few different elements, from story retelling to an analysis of the desire for fame, but some of the strongest moments in the series are when we're able to get inside the minds of the people impacted by this scandal. In addition to characters like Stiviano and Shelley Sterling, a particularly important moment is watching the Clippers players try to navigate how to respond to their owner's racist comments, including whether or not they should be playing.

"That was the scene we worked on for a really long time in the writers room," Welch highlighted.

"We didn't want it to feel too much like a debate, we really wanted to make sure that each character had a personal set of feelings about the responsibility of responding to this tape, how it was falling on that character's story."

"For me, part of it was, this needs to actually feel and sound like a conversation Black folk, majority Black folk, trying to figure out both how they feel internally, and then also how to come out externally and make a statement," Browne added. "We see that in the show about basketball, but that's also a moment that just happens at times when you are confronted with a situation and you have that question of, 'What are we going do?' There is no blueprint necessarily about what to do, but we've got to do something."

"Before you get to a group decision, the idea of letting everyone say their peace, say what they're struggling with, say why this is making them angry, about all that, I think led to a really compelling, authentic scene."

Bray highlighted that it was the messiness and tension maintained that was the "beauty" of that moment.

"It was very messy and people were interjecting, and I think that was part of the writing, it was part of the direction and also part of the also the editing, it went through the process of being a different film at every point, and then turning out to be, I think, something quite wonderful," Bray said. "I started with authenticity and immediacy, you want it to feel that this was happening right now, that we weren't re-presenting, with our intentions of being didactic in the presentation of that scene."