American Crime (TV Show)

American Crime (Created by John Ridley)/2015

American Crime focuses on the fact that a crime in modern America is not only a violation of law by an individual resulting in a state-imposed punishment, but is an event where tensions surrounding race and historical prejudice play out in a condensed, emotionally-heightened form.

The show follows the aftermath of the murder of a white American male and the rape and assault of his wife. The man charged with the crime is an African American male called Carter who lives a transient life with his white, junkie girlfriend Aubry. The state’s case is that Carter robbed and murdered the man, assisted by two Mexican men: a driver, Hector an illegal immigrant with a criminal past, and the car’s owner, Tony, a legal immigrant from a conservative Mexican family.

What eventuates is that the family of the deceased begin to argue that the crime was a racially-based hate crime, while Carter’s sister argues that it is another instance of an innocent African-American male thrown in jail based on limited evidence. The facts of the case begin to diminish in importance as the overarching dialogues of racial hatred, revenge and past transgressions take the centre stage.

As the show progresses, it makes the point that the race-based dialogues of blame and resentment do not benefit those involved, and individuals are sacrificed in the name of a greater cause without any clear beneficiaries. It tells us that unless there is forgiveness of past transgressions, justice will not occur either on the individual level or throughout wider American society as a whole.

What makes American Crime a great show is that it tackles the topic of racial tensions in America (complex in itself), but also highlights many of the other impacts of serious crime that can often go unnoticed.  We find Tony being sucked into the youth justice system, and beginning to acquire violent friends and tendencies that did not exist before being tainted by the system. We see a network of victim support that assists victims and their families in overcoming the trauma of crime, but at times encourages a punitive approach that is too revenge-orientated to be of true assistance to the victim. Moreover, the adversarial justice system and an open court process can often bring to the surface the behaviours of victims that their families would prefer hidden from the public arena.

Generally great shows tend to not only be insightful and well-written, but also have a charismatic lead character(s): a Tony Soprano, a Selina Meyer or a Walter White. No character in American Crime left me with the impression of greatness or longevity. This is a weakness but also a strength of American Crime, as it keeps the focus on the issues rather than the charisma of any particular character. That being said, this fact may lead to American Crime being forgotten or failing to capture the audience size that such a well-written and thoughtful show deserves.


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