The 10 Emmy nominations American Crime received this morning are validation of creator John Ridley’s hope that the limited series would be impactful and relevant, but he’s measured when discussing how close to the truth the anthology series—about a small town murder and the various people it affects—ended up being. “With any show that you’re doing you certainly want to know that you’re relevant, but I, very sincerely—there were places I would’ve traded relevancy over the last year for just being a quality show,” he says.
Ridley had written the pilot for American Crime before he won an Oscar for his adapted screenplay of 12 Years a Slave—which won Best Picture in a year the awards talk centered on diversity in film and in the Academy Award nominations as a whole, which then faltered only a year later—and he still sounds surprised to find his series on network TV. “The only thing that sort of mitigates all that is to know we have been intermingled every step of the way with a very painful chapter in American history,” he says of the show’s positive critical and Emmy response in light of current events. “To start this in the wake of Trayvon (Martin), to be in production through Ferguson, to be broadcasting during Baltimore and even at the end of this, in the wake of the shooting in South Carolina—our series ended with a black man being shot… I could not be more proud of the show, but I know that for us and our circumstance it goes beyond entertainment to being about who we are now. So I’m happy, I’m proud, and I’m cautious knowing our subject matter for the next year.”
For Season 2, which will involve much of the same cast and crew from the first season but with a new storyline and characters, Ridley is being tight-lipped except to say viewers can expect more of the hard, grounded-in-reality storytelling that now defines American Crime. “You can’t ever take the pressure off,” he says. “You have to make sure that regardless of whatever conversation is going on around you, that we are doing the things that got us here in the first place and not equivocate, not think, ‘People are going to be watching, what can we do to maybe get an extra couple hundred thousand eyeballs? Should we be softer, should we be more inviting? Or should we be true to ourselves and true to our nature?’… In Season 2 we’ve picked subject matter that is very relevant and I can already tell you, having started it, there are very painful conversations going on that we didn’t expect that are close to the narrative. When you do a show that is about perspectives that are out there that are real and aren’t represented, suddenly the show, just by default, becomes singular.”
Ridley is happy to find himself amongst not only a diversity of Emmy-recognized shows and characters, but also viewing platforms, all of which helps push more socially-aware topics in the culture at large. “If you look at the kinds of shows that are represented (in the Emmy nominations) and the kinds of people, the different aspects of them, for me, to have Tim (Hutton) and Felicity (Huffman) nominated, but also Regina (King) and Richard Cabral, when you look at some of our folks behind the scenes—our casting director Kim Coleman, who is a woman of color; Lou, our editor is Asian-American—and then you look at Transparent, you look at Modern Family, which clearly has been a favorite for a long time, yeah, I think the Television Academy has done a good job in terms of recognizing the different types of storytelling that’s out there,” he says. “But to do that you have to have the stories represented. It’s a good day for the storytellers, for the broadcasters, for the different platforms and for the people who have said entertainment doesn’t have to be one thing anymore.”