Loosely based on the life of the famed Judge Lynn Toler, ALLBLK’s Judge Me Not is the story of Zelma Jay Johnson, (played by Chyna Layne), an exceptionally bright, young Black woman who struggles with mental health issues, a highly dysfunctional family, and a volatile love life.
Toler and Layne spoke with rolling out about the show, mental health, and being vulnerable.
What led you to executive produce this show?
Judge Lynn Toler: I did it for fun initially and then my husband said, “Why would you do all that work on something and not pass it around and get it on air?”
I was a municipal judge, which I thought was an interesting position because you get ordinary people that are in extraordinary circumstances, and a lot of people don’t see that on TV. It’s the court you’re most likely to end up in if something goes wrong at your house so I thought it would be nice to showcase that courtroom.
I also wanted to talk about the unique position of being a young female judge who has mental health concerns. I talked about mine all the time in divorce court and you should not be ashamed of it, because sometimes whatever’s happening with your mental health also allows you a certain creativity and a different perspective on things. We need to take the shame out of that game, so I thought I would do a show based on a municipal court, where they’re fascinating, interesting, and funny characters, and then try to do justice to the issue of mental health. When you hear about mental health on TV, you’re usually talking about things that went wrong, [but] mental health can be a struggle that can go very right.
How did this role tap into your vulnerability and open up about the subject?
Chyna Layne: As a New Yorker who has a million walls up, when I first got the role I spoke to Judge T and I got her book, My Mother’s Rules: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius. She sent me the book, and I got her audio version so I could hear it in her voice.
While I was filming, I went through a lot of things that Judge T has gone through and she talks about openly. She’s very open about who she is, everything that she’s been through, and her bravery. It encouraged me to be brave and let my feelings go. A lot of the inhibitions that I had were completely dissolved for this. There are a couple of times when I did seek advice from Judge T, personally, while filming, and all of that empowered me to be free and not be afraid and bring down my walls to do justice to her story.