‘American Crime,’ John Ridley’s New Series on ABC
By KATHRYN SHATTUCK MARCH 3, 2015A father receives a call in the middle of the night that his son is dead. Killed.He wails with grief in a bathroom.“They think it might be a Hispanic kid,” he tells his former wife.She responds reflexively: “Some illegal?”Then a teenager cries out to his father for help as he’s placed under arrest.Those moments from a commercial for “American Crime” telegraph the impression that ABC wants to convey of its latest foray into the prestigious limited-series game. This is an intense and provocative show, punctuated with moments of raw emotion. It’s not too surprising that it’s the creation of John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “12 Years a Slave.”
Granted, Ridley’s Oscar-winning script for 12 Years a Slave was pretty dire because he stuck so closely to the style of the source material by the Victorian amateur ghostwriter. Everybody makes fun of Brad Pitt’s lines in the movie, but that’s because they are afraid of making fun of the black characters’ comparably bad lines.Still, I suspect Ridley is a thoughtful, talented guy, so I have reason for hoping the show isn’t as awful as the rest of this promotional piece by the nice white lady critic makes it sound:
The 11-episode series is a trenchant, sorrowful exploration of race, faith, gender, class and addiction centered on a violent home invasion in Modesto, Calif. …Race, and the friction it can lead to, is one of the main themes of “American Crime.” And it’s in the character of Barb Hanlon, Russ’s former wife, that we see that discomfort come to a head in a way that feels downright shocking and even repugnant. As Barb, Ms. Huffman portrays perhaps the series’ most unlikable character: a mother seeking justice for her son. Her motives are understandable, but are undercut by her sometimes casual, sometimes direct bigotry.Mr. Ridley was adamant about not creating what he called “straw people,” particularly in Barb’s case, “because I had an opportunity to write a white woman who may have viewpoints that are exceptionally different from mine, but they’re coming from a place that she believes is real,” he said.He excelled, Ms. Huffman said, at shaping a nuanced survivor whose parched inner life and adversarial relationship to the world have given rise to prejudices that she explains away as pragmatism.“We’re past the broad, sweeping generalizations of ‘those people are inferior, those people are this, those people are that,’ ” Ms. Huffman said. “Which is why people think, ‘Oh, aren’t we done with racism?’ And you go, ‘No, no, there’s a whole new face of racism.’ And I think that’s possibly Barb.”Mr. Ridley knows he has created an ugly person on his show. And he hopes she does her job. “There may be people who believe what Barb believes,” he said. “And to a degree I want them to go, ‘O.K., good, you go, girl.’ But then they’re going to have to take that same journey that Barb is taking. And if they do, are they ready to come along for the ride and see all of the ramifications?”
The real problem with crime in America today is that the mothers of murdered children often are racist.