If the government ever decided to act on the ACLU’s call for an investigation into Hollywood’s hiring practices, it might start with ABC’s American Crime – not to see how the television industry gets it wrong, but to see how it can get it right. John Ridley, the show’s creator, has said he wants to explore issues of diversity without being “preachy” about it, and he’s certainly practicing what he doesn’t preach.
The show, which has been renewed for a second season, is one of the most diverse primetime shows in the history of network TV, both in front of and behind the cameras. In its first season, the show explored issues of race, faith, community and revenge against the backdrop of a brutal murder in Modesto, CA. Six of the show’s nine directors were women, and half of them are women of color — two black and one Asian American.
The show’s seven writers include four females — one white, one Asian American and two African Americans. Of the three male writers, one is black, one is Hispanic and one is white. The show’s nine executive producers, co-executive producers, producers, supervising producers, and associate producers include six females – three white, two black and one Asian American, two of whom are over 50. The three males include one African American and two whites.
Next season, the show will feature a new crime in a new locale, with some members of the original cast — including Regina King, Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman — returning as different characters. Season 2 will add a female director of photography, a rarity in the TV industry. The writers will all be back, with the addition of a new African American male writer. Five of the eight directors booked so far for include five women, two African American males, an Asian American male and an Asian American female.
Few shows, if any, can match that level of diversity. But Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years A Slave, doesn’t call it diversity. “It’s not diversity. That’s something we tried to achieve in the 1970s,” he laughed. “This is reality.”
The reality of having a fully integrated cast and crew, he said, was essential to bringing perspective to a story that, like Roshoman, is seen from multiple points of view. “If I was going to try to tell a story about perspectives,” he said, “it would have been disingenuous to try to represent those perspectives without representing them behind the camera as well. As open-minded and progressive-minded as I think I am, I am still only one person, and I can’t possibly bring emotional honesty to it if I don’t bring a lot of people and a lot of points of view to the basic craft of storytelling.”
And that perspective, he said, did not just come out of the writers’ room. “If we are going to talk about what it means to be black or white or Hispanic or Christian or Muslim, you have to invite a lot of people in and tell their stories and share their stories,” he said. “In this regard, I looked at everyone in all these departments as partners.”
If the show had failed after one season, Ridley said, his goal of creating an inclusive show with an inclusive cast and crew “might have been considered an experiment, but to be picked up and to have received critical reception shows that it’s not an experiment. It’s something that can work and something that we should all work toward. It’s something that everybody in Hollywood wants but sometimes we’re not sure the best way to move forward. But I think our show proves that you can invite a wide variety of people to the table, and that it in no way diminishes the quality of the product. If anything, it enhances it.”