Sunday's upcoming episode will address the rising number of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the U.S.
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The Equalizer's squad of justice vigilantes grapples with Asian American hate crimes in Sunday's upcoming episode, "Chinatown."

Liza Lapira, who plays Mel Bayani in the TV reboot, tells EW that she worked closely with the writing team to inform her character's latest storyline: Mel and McCall (Queen Latifah) work with a jaded former police officer to find the killers of a beloved Chinese-American restaurant owner who died in a hate crime masked to look like an accidental electrical fire. The crime leads Mel to open up about her own experiences with racism, shown in the exclusive clip above.

When the topic hit the idea board for season 2, the CBS series' showrunners reached out to Lapira to determine her comfort level and connect her with the episode's writer, Zoe Robyn. The two spoke several times before solidifying a final script.

"Zoe had done tons of research on her own and had some framework in mind," Lapira tells EW. "I was able to add my two cents and verify, 'Yes, that has happened to me, that has happened to my friends, that happened to my mom.' I was able to crystallize that you can be in a crowded place and be alone, and that made it into the script."

Liza Lapira as Mel in "The Equalizer"
Liza Lapira as Melody "Mel" Bayani
| Credit: Michael Greenberg/CBS

In the exclusive clip, Mel recounts a trip to the supermarket with her mom when she was a kid. A man walked close up to her mom and spat on her, and nobody around them reacted. Lapira explains that this story is an amalgamation of what she, her friends, and her family have experienced.

Lapira points out that hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased dramatically over the past year, citing recent examples including a New York man's attack on seven Asian women in a single day just earlier this week.

"I was able to uplift and give voice to real people in my life that then colored characters on screen," Lapira says of the episode.

Liza Lapira as Mel in "The Equalizer"
Perry Yung as Ray Lai and Tory Kittles as Detective Marcus Dante
| Credit: Michael Greenberg/CBS

The actress praises the writing team for its approach to what can be difficult subject matter. She says that while some shows may shy away from topics like racism because "they want to get it right," The Equalizer took it head-on.

"The way the writers' room worked with me is the way it should be, or could be the model for other shows," Lapira says. "I was involved soup to nuts in a very real way. I was given the heads-up months before, I had several conversations with Zoe. She listened, listened, listened. It was a case study in active listening."

Following efforts across the entertainment industry to diversify whose stories are told, Lapira highlights how important such "active listening" is to effect significant change. The key to that, she says, is letting go of all defensiveness on either side.

"Everyone deserves a seat at the table. They always say that, right?" Lapira says. "But what comes with that, is they also need to be empowered and actively listened to. They can't just be decorative."

Liza Lapira as Mel in "The Equalizer"
Liza Lapira as Melody "Mel" Bayani
| Credit: Michael Greenberg/CBS

Lapira resonates with the visibility of Asian actors in the episode, which includes a scene of three Asian American characters "talking and just being human."

"Mel has had a standalone episode before. She's been fleshed out before this," Lapira adds. "I really appreciate that this is just another color, a very central and important color, but a color of what is a full human."

The episode of The Equalizer airs Sunday, March 6, on CBS and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

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