Season Three of American Gangster: Trap Queensproduced by A. Smith & Co. Productions, is currently streaming on BET+ and the stories are as juicer than ever.
Lil Kim serves as the narrator of the series portraying each Queen’s compelling story through first-hand accounts interwoven with archival footage and subtle recreations, giving viewers a visceral experience. This season will feature stories from Sydia Bagley, Lonett “Cookie” Williams, Pam Driskel, Tracie Dickeyand Half “Mimi” Harrison with each new episode chronicling miraculous stories and resilience, from multimillion-dollar real estate hustles to horrific tales of cult leaders.
BET.com was able to chat with the executive producer Judge Greg Mathis who shares which Trap Queens story was most compelling to him, his new series on E!, and details his son’s coming-out story.
BET.com: As an EP on American Gangster: Trap Queens, as you listen to the ladies discuss their past histories, what direction did you want the ladies to go in terms of storytelling and retelling their pasts?
Judge Mathis: Certainly. First of all, I’m convinced after many years, that entertainment is what folks watch television for — whether they want compelling entertainment because drama and love that type of television is what folks like to watch like crime shows. In this instance, I thought that we must first entertain the viewers in telling the story and then make sure that the story is inspirational to people that watch it. We want to make sure that we show that they’ve turned their lives around at the end of that destructive journey. Ghat’s part of our goal as well. It’s really what I call a cautionary tale with an inspirational ending. We like to tell the story so thoroughly with reenactments, all the entertainment factors we can bring into this very serious subject.
BET.com: Is there a trap queens story this season that was the most compelling for you?
Judge Mathis: Well, they all touched me in the sense — if they have family they’re leaving behind and they’re hurting them emotionally and putting the burden on them — that’s pretty much all of the ladies involved. It’s hard to distinguish. If I had to choose one, I would say one of my childhood friends from Detroit—Big 50. Her story was so compelling. We did a movie on her life as well — her biopic on BET+. I would select her as the most compelling case that we’ve had.
BET.com: After letting fans into your court for years, you’re now welcoming them into your home as part of ‘Mathis Family Matters,’ which premieres on E! this Sunday. What is on your mind as your guests get to check you and your family out every week?
Judge Mathis: Certainly — what goes through my mind primarily is being mindful that we are really portraying the image of the Black family and we’re portraying ourselves as a wholesome Black family that love each other. While we may have our personal obstacles that we deal with, our family engages in a lot of fun, and dealing with obstacles as well. We want viewers to know that no matter what stage in life or level of success you have, you’re going to have some personal obstacles. We give a couple of roadmaps on how to address those obstacles so I think people are gonna see a lot of fun. It’s going to be on my mind to keep the fun going—that won’t be hard, right? [laughs]. Also, making sure that we give a good image for our community and in that sense, you won’t see any fighting, and you won’t see any loud arguing amongst any of us.
BET.com: Mathis Family Matters’s trailer lets viewers know to expect a lot of wacky fun. What excites you most about sharing your family with the world? Is there a vulnerable moment that you’re curious about how the audience will react to? If so, what’s the lesson that you want them to take away from it?
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Judge Mathis: Yes, I think one of the more emotional segments of an episode was when my son, Greg Jr., disclosed to me that his friends and colleagues in Washington, DC, didn’t know he was gay. He had come out to us when he was 18 and now he’s in his 30s. He revealed that to me and I was just shocked that he hadn’t let everybody know because he’s in a gay friendly town in DC and asked if the folks at work knew and he said they didn’t know. t he told folks — he said he was worried about how it would affect my career, can you believe that? That really caused me some emotional feelings because the essence of that statement was that I will deny who I am dad for many, many years to protect your career. That was very compelling to me. I would say to viewers that the result of you being homophobic or buying into the homophobic narrative, for whatever reason — if you’re mad because who they sleeping with, because you think the Bible or whatever the Bible says, we’re not passing concept over here. We are treating everybody equally and we’re fighting for equality for those who are oppressed, like I fought for equality in every way. I advise my son to get involved in the movement to fight for equality — if he feels that he would have been discriminated against by telling people, which is the essence of what he feels get in the fight. He knows I was a street youth and went into politics and silver rights, because I wanted to make things equal. I wanted to fight for equality in the area I came from, and poverty and street youth. I use it as a cause and that’s what I advised him. That’s what I advise parents to do is one, accept your child, and whatever the identity they’ve chosen. Secondly, make sure you fight for your child, and teach your child how to fight for themselves.
BET.com: That’s so touching and beautifully said. For people with children who identify as an LGBTQIA+ member and may not know the best practices to have that conversation, what do you suggest?
Judge Mathis: I’m smiling because I don’t know if I did it right [laughs]. I think he loved the results of the gesture and that is total embrace by his family as well as from me. He told me who he was before heading to college because he wanted to embrace who he was and my response was to overcompensate. I drove to his school and told him we’re gonna have some fun and have dinner. We headed to the movie theaters and had all types of fun. I don’t know if you should do that, but it worked. I overwhelming showed support for him, not just on that subject, but I wanted to embrace and hold and hug him as long as I could. Enjoying our day together after sharing something he was worried about, I wanted to create an extra level of enjoyment which I felt would give him an extra level of confidence.
BET.com: What’s the best part about being Judge Mathis?
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Judge Mathis: Well, the best part of being judge Mathis is I’m able to entertain folks and have fun myself — then I’m able to infuse some social commentary that I’ve learned in my fight for justice. As a social and civil rights activist, I have that information on how to make a difference there and in your community in that way. I also have a little wisdom after so many years and varied lives. I’ve lived three lives — street youth, family man, and a lawyer/judge/politician. In that sense, I think that that’s the role I play on television — that’s judge Mathis. As for Greg Mathis at home is the very opposite because I don’t have a gavel, I don’t have door, I don’t have anybody that saves me [laughs]. The kids bring me down the size by totally taking me in the opposite direction and bringing humility to me. That typically is ignoring anything I say like my unsolicited advice and making fun of me anytime I let my guard down like I do to folks on television [laughs].
BET.com: With a career spanning over decades, what’s the biggest learning you gained?
Judge Mathis: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you have to take chances in life but be prepared to take advantage of that chance. Secondly, you must work hard and you must overcome the obstacles, that come your way. For example, every stage of my career there has been opportunities nd every stage I’ve taken risk. Unfortunately, my risk as a street youth — no matter how much risk that was, is probably the one that backfired the most. However, when I began law school, I knew that I had a criminal record, and I was pursuing an expungement. It was a risk that they wouldn’t give me my law license even after going to law school and borrowing $200,000 to go to college and grad school and law school. —that was a major risk. Sure enough, I had to take the state bar association to the state Supreme Court to get my license — that risk was about to backfire. However, I didn’t give up and I kept fighting — had a major obstacle kept fighting to overcome that obstacle, I had to take that obstacle to the state Supreme Court to win — but I did win. After that, I took a chance a few years after practicing criminal defense law to run for Judge. Well, there we have it—another chance that the media would disclose and come after me. Indeed, that is what happened. The media came after me for my record but I knew that was a chance and I said this is what I do —I fight against obstacles, I fight back so I flipped it. My campaign turned into — I’m the one you need to help straighten out some of these street youth. I know what they need and I know how to transform them. Then I was elected and that was a chance. A few years later, Hollywood came calling as they liked my backstory and the success story. They told me [they] thought this is something that would compel folks and they offered me to come to television, however, they warned me it’s only 80% of our shows fail so you only have a two out of 10 chance of succeeding. I resigned my judgment to take that chance and it paid off so you must take risk, but you must be prepared and to be able to take advantage of that risk. I was prepared. When I had served the community for so long — working in Detroit politics for the mayor community and organizing, I was prepared that when someone came against me, in the media, the people would support me because I had worked and served them. I was prepared both scholastically and career wise to handle the obstacles with the skills that I had gained, and that is community organizing and serving the public. Be prepared and have a B plan — everybody’s against that but just have it there. Be prepared to do something else should that risk backfire.
BET.com: As the only show currently still in production to have existed for so long under one arbitrator, and with so many other iconic daytime shows calling it quits — would you ever say goodbye to ‘Judge Mathis’…?
Judge Mathis: That depends on how much the audience watches Mathis Family Matters [laughs]. Something is going to have to give within a few years or less — If [Mathis Family Matters] is a big success, pay my mortgage with the show which isn’t the case at this time, maybe I would say goodbye to [Judge Mathis]. Until then, I’m going to continue this opportunity and I’m doing this for my children — I can’t deny them the opportunity to access the same opportunities I had and that’s giving them the platform of television while making a decent salary.
BET.com: In the commercial for your E! Show, you say the best way to annoy someone is basketball… What’s the best way that someone can get under your skin?
Judge Mathis: Disrespect and that comes from that street mentality. I know you heard street guys make this a big deal in prison — I want my respect and you better not disrespect me or why you mean mugging. You can’t even look certain guys in the eye without them figuring you disrespecting them so I still have a little bit of that left in me. It slightly triggers me when I endure respect on the [Judge Mathis] show and quite frankly, even in person. I get that sometimes and I’m one of those celebrities who hasn’t learned to accept that yet.
BET.com: Sometimes you put that in your back pocket in case someone may get a little out of hand.
BET.com: I can either lock you up, or lock you up and whip your a** [laughs].
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Ty Cole is a New York-based entertainment reporter and writer for BET.com who covers pop culture, music, and lifestyle. Follow his latest music on Twitter @IamTyCole.