American Crime came back for its second season this week, and so it was that the cast and producers were on hand to talk it up for the TCA Winter Press Tour. Season two is set in Indianapolis and tracks the fallout when a public high school student accuses several private school athletes of sexually assaulting him, then taking photos and putting them on the internet.
The situation as described in that logline and explored in the new season is fictional, but it’s also ripped from the headlines. There have been several high profile cases over the last several years, including one just this past week in Tennessee, that mirror the plot horrifically. That subject came up briefly in the panel’s Q&A today, and creator and co-executive producer John Ridley talked about how it related to the season’s overarching themes, including the examination of class and masculinity.
I caught up with Ridley after the panel to ask a bit more about the topic, particularly the decision to depict a male victim in a scenario that has largely afflicted women. “Part of that is that we have a cultural density, a view of how this happens, who it happens to,” he told me. “Irrespective of gender, it happens too much, it’s not reported enough.”
“I appreciate that there are storytellers who are trying to tell stories about when it does happen to women, but for [American Crime], knowing the themes I want to get into of education, socioeconomic status, class, was there a way to get into the story for people to look at it and say ‘this is happening out there?’ And ‘if we are not dealing with it in all circumstances, then we are not dealing with it?’ That’s what we really wanted to get at.”
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Connor Jessup, who plays the assaulted Taylor echoed those thoughts. “It’s a perspective that hasn’t often been discussed in popular culture,” he told me. “From any perspective it’s a very underreported issue. There’s a lot of academic writing, there’s a lot of journalistic writing, about it happening to all genders, but in the popular culture I can’t think of something that’s addressed this issue. It also ties into the other themes of the season – masculinity, sports culture – in a unique way.”
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I asked him if the way male-on-male rape is often joked about was taken into account in the story. “I don’t want to speculate too much about that connection, but there is a connection in the broader sense of the way we treat these things. [Society] treats prison rape as a joke. [Taylor’s assault] is treated not only as a joke, but as an impossibility, by many characters… There’s an attitude of incredible dismissiveness – and this is with women and girls too – and that is not only individual, but systemic.”
“The police, not only do they assume that Taylor is a girl because of his name, but they doubt him. You’re in this position where you’ve gone through this extraordinary trauma, and then the system compounds the trauma. Boys and girls are immediately doubted, the story is poked holes in, everything you say is turned against you. The system, whether it’s the school system, the health system, the justice system, adds secondary trauma on top of it.”
But Jessup, like Ridley during the panel discussion, reiterated that the show is attempting to put a human face on that problem. “You understand how Felicity (Huffman)’s character or Tim (Hutton)’s character or Regina (King)’s character, or the cops are doubtful. You understand where they’re coming from. But just because they’re coming from a decent place doesn’t mean they aren’t doing harm. Which is what the show’s about.”
The second season of American Crime, which resumed on January 6, airs Wednesdays on ABC. Along with Jessup, Hutton, Huffman and King, it stars Lili Taylor, Elvis Nolasco, Trevor Jackson, Joey Pollari, and Angelique Rivera. Richard Cabral, André Benjamin, Hope Davis, Faran Tahir, Stephanie Sigman, Emily Bergl, and Christopher Stanley have recurring roles throughout the season.
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