A new, Black series that shines light on mental health? Yes, please. In ALLBLK’s Judge Me Not, Chyna Layne (She’s Gotta Have It) stars as Zelma Jay Johnson, a newly elected, 31-year-old judge in Atlanta that apparently has a mental disorder but never receives a professional diagnosis and whose life is far from in order. What’s even more interesting is that the show is based very closely on the life of Judge Lynn Toler (Commit or Quit, Divorce Court).
Judge Me Not proves to be more than just a courtroom drama and keeps viewers hanging on for more with moments that will make you laugh and cry as you get emotionally attached to the characters. We get to see the judge navigate the courtroom and her personal life, which doesn’t always go well. There’s also a bigger story within the plot as we see many of Judge Johnson’s cases are race-related, and there are other racial incidents. Now, the fight scenes are a little blah, but overall I loved the show. It’s not often that we see a Black woman struggling with her mental health and still getting things done with excellence. Plus, the judge’s wardrobe was slaying! I’d love to see what a second season of the show can bring with the opportunity for growth.
I was honored to sit down with both ladies, Judge Toler and Chyna, to discuss Judge Me Not and get the tea surrounding the show. Get into it below.
Fancy: Judge Toler, how closely based on your life is Judge Me Not, because the show shares a great deal.
Judge Toler: Yeah, it does. It’s accurate to the extent of her age when she gets on the bench, that she’s young, and that she’s Black. She’s in the municipal court, which is the court that I was in. A lot of the cases that you see are cases that I saw or some of my judge friends saw. Her mental health issues and the mental health issues of her family are all firmly based on me. The husband is based on a friend’s husband, who was like catnip to women. He was just so sexy and just couldn’t help himself. Other than that, everything starts with the kernel of me, and then it takes you on a ride that’s much more interesting than my life.
Fancy: Well, that is interesting, and I was really curious about the husband. That was one thing I wanted to know. And I hope I’m not overstepping, but do you actually have a mental health disorder?
Judge Toler: Absolutely. I don’t know what it is because I’ve never been diagnosed, but I go to a psychiatrist regularly. I take pills when I need to, and it’s hereditary in my case. There’s a lot of it in my family that came through my father, and that is reflected in the show. I wanted to put my mental health issues in the show because, typically, when one says someone is mentally ill, that is an invitation to dismiss them. I want people to understand that mental health challenges are simply that. Not only are they simply challenges, but they also have some upside on the creative side. I mean, a little bit off and a little bit creative. They come hand in hand often, and that’s what I wanted to see, a meaningful look at somebody who struggles with their mental health that’s not formulaic or dismissive.
Fancy: Thank you for that because I actually have bipolar disorder. I oftentimes talk about how we’re dismissed or deemed incompetent many times just because we admit to having a disorder. Now my next question is for Chyna. I wanted to know what it was like for you to get into character, playing the judge (Judge Jay Jackson), and how did you come about that role?
Chyna: Brett Dismuke, the General Manager at ALLBLK, thought of me for it. We talked about it. I got the script. Judge Lynn Toler? Ok, check. Awesome. Let’s move forward. Read the script. I actually just really fell in love with what Judge T wrote and what she was presenting.
Representation is so important, and I just feel like this is something that has never been shown on television. The perspective, like, even presenting the mental health issues and also having a lot of fun as well. There’s so much that goes on in her life. Even with her boyfriend Darryl, who’s played by the fantastic Javon Terrell-there’s a lot of chaos, but there is also a lot of fun, heartwarming moments and places where we get to laugh. I just loved how well-rounded the script was.
Fancy: So, were there any ways you two already felt like you were alike?
Chyna: I didn’t start discovering that until I spoke to her (Judge Toler) and started talking with her more. I read her book, My Mother’s Rules: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius. I started to discover a lot of parallels then, and I also learned from that. Even while I was filming, I took a lot of lessons that she was talking about in the book, and then I applied that. There was a moment when she and I sat and talked, and she was helping me with something that I was finding challenging at the moment. She even said to me that we’re a lot more alike than we actually knew. And it’s true.
Judge Toler: Can I say this? I just have to mention this at this time. What her genius was in playing this role was she just didn’t play how I present because I present like that. Well, I may present like that (draws a square in the air around self), but what’s going on in my head is like that (draws a big circle around self). She allowed the audience to visualize what was happening in my head without becoming clownish about it. It was a very fine line that she had to walk, and it’s so well represented. I mean, no one will know how good it is unless they’re me because they’re not in my head. It appears that she was, and it was tremendous.
Fancy: Wow. So what do you all want the audience to take away from Judge Me Not?
Judge Toler: I want them to wonder who did it because there is a “who done it” aspect to it. I want them to see what our community and culture are like and what’s wrong with us, and how we could do it better. I want them to come away with a new, deeper understanding of mental health challenges and the people who have them, and the talents that people who have mental health challenges can have. I want them to walk away with the concept of a deep, complicated love affair between a man and a woman who really love one another but are fighting all. Everybody got their demons to fight, and they just trying to come together. There’s a lot I want people to walk away with.
Chyna: I want people, especially Black women, to see themselves in stronger roles in front of the camera and behind the camera. I would love to see more shows like this on more channels as well- cable, broadcast, and streaming.
Fancy: Got it. Are there any other projects that you all wish to let our audience know about that you have coming up outside of the show?
Judge Toler: I don’t, but Chyna…
Chyna: Judge T has season two!
Judge Toler: That’s right. Speak it into existence!
Chyna: And I’m excited because I’m producing more. My company has created two unscripted series, and I’m really excited about those coming up, and we’ll talk about that more. They’re both family shows, so I’m really excited about that. We’ll talk about that more in the months coming up.
Judge Me Not is now available for streaming on ALLBLK. Watch new episodes every Thursday.
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