The Fox TV show Proven Innocent has turned Friday nights into a “storytime” of tales about the wrongly convicted. Nikki M. James plays Violet Belle, the person behind the Injustice Project’s podcast. She is what is essentially the keeper of the firm’s “stories” in a law firm run by Easy Boudreau (Russell Hornsby) and his partner Madelyn (played by Rachelle Lefevre). Through her true-crime podcast, Violet chronicles the details of each case, injecting them with her own observations and opinions. Violet is the modern narrator through the podcast. Hers is one of the most pivotal roles in Proven Innocent. James sat down with me to discuss her role and how her love of podcasts made playing Violet a dream come true.
Not a Podcast Novice
James is no stranger to the podcast world. When asked about her experience with the medium, she laughed about being an old school listener. James talked about catching episodes of NPR’s This American Life straight from the desktop download. In essence, she was into the podcast scene before it was cool. Today, the actress takes in her shows whenever she can. Her favorite time is at night just before bed. James told me that her husband bought wireless earphones so that she could get in an extra few hours before dropping off to sleep each night.
James listens to all kinds of podcasts and is up-to-date on the players behind the microphones. That’s why when Ira Glass, host of This American Life, came on as a guest of Proven Innocent, James was elated and nervous. You would never know it, watching her in “Struggle for Stonewall” episode. In character as Violet, she interviews Glass as himself for the Injustice Project’s podcast. James admits to fangirling but was able to get down to business when the camera rolled.
Keeper of the Innocent’s Stories
As Violet, James’ role is to collect the information on the cases and amplifying them on the podcast, the Injustice Project’s platform. This is so important, according to James, because the people behind those stories are left without a voice and for such a long time. The wrongfully convicted clients on the show mirror real life. They are ignored and thrown into a jail cell where their stories are never heard. On the show, once the firm takes the case, James is able to lend the firm’s platform to that voice for an episode or two. Unfortunately, there is always a similar platform for the wrongfully accused in real life.
This is more time than those wrongfully accused had access to before. In the “Acceptable Losses” episode — the first episode without a satisfying conclusion — the client tells the firm that getting his story out to the public is more important than his freedom at that point. Why? Because Violet’s dissection of the case and the reach of the podcast will ensure that the public is aware of the injustice. This is a message that viewers can use in real life. They can do something about it when they see it happening. Through the power of voting and the responsibility of jury duty, we do a little to prevent someone else from suffering the same fate.
Besides being the hottest entertainment medium right now, podcasts reach thousands ( millions sometimes) of people in one episode. They also stay online and are easily shareable, making podcast episodes the perfect way to spread information. James loves them because the entry point into the medium is fairly easy, allowing for variety in topic, tone, and also in the storytellers who present the tales. This means that the stories of the wrongfully accused have the opportunity to be heard without the same gatekeeping and filtering that comes in television and film. In the show, Violet is the storyteller and is the only filter for the story.
For Proven Innocent, the podcast serves as a way to further dissect the cases. James also says that it is a way to propel the plot. The podcaster serves the role of narrator at times, summarizing and sometimes opening about the events happening onscreen. It’s a way to reiterate, and even shine the spotlight, on certain details while putting others in the proper perspective.
And perspective is Violet’s specialty. James says that the job is perfect because Violet doesn’t have to be a lawyer or a journalist. She just has to have access and something to say. Violet fits the description and is very good at her work. She is so good that in the episode featuring Glass, the host offers Violet a position in his fictional company. She is certainly making a splash and people are listening.
So, What’s Next for Violet?
James wants the viewers to know that Violet is safe for the rest of the season. However, all of these assists that Violet has been giving Madelyn (played by Rachelle Lefevre) may have the podcaster looking for a bigger role or something more outside the firm.
You can catch Nikki James as Violet in the remaining three episodes on Fox Friday nights at 8/9 CST.
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Jonita Davis is a writer, mother, a certified nerd, and writer of Black Girl Nerds. Davis is a critic and journalist. She has been writing for 13 years about the way pop culture and politics affect our lives as parents, women, black women, nerds, and people of this planet.