When American Crime debuts in March, it will become one of the most topical new series to hit the air this season.
The new limited series from Oscar winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) follows the investigation and trial surrounding the racially-charged murder of a veteran in Modesto, Calif., from multiple perspectives, including characters portrayed by Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Regina King, Benito Martinez and Elvis Nolasco.
Though American Crime was developed before the recent surge of alleged police brutality, Ridley notes that viewers will find that the series will draw parallels to the events surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and other such instances that have made headlines over the last few years.
“There was difficulty in doing the show because whatever you do, you want to be relevant to a certain degree,” Ridley told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s winter TV previews. “When we originally started working on the show, there were times where we thought maybe we were not relevant anymore, maybe we’ve moved past certain things. Then, as the show was moving along, very sadly we realized that we were actually pre-dating some things. The reality is that unfortunately these events remain cyclical in this country.”
However, Ridley insisted they never had the intention of exploiting these events. “At the same time, you want to build the space that people recognize it’s not purely empty entertainment,” he continued. “We’re not trying to acknowledge things that are going on. A lot of times, when you talk about a very specific image, it wasn’t necessarily about… putting things in the script that are preaching. Sometimes it is just a shot, it’s just an image, it’s something that resonates, whether it is the ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ [or] whether it’s being very tight on the eyes of a police officer who realizes that the situation is about to get out of control. In that regard, we just found ourselves in a space [where] we wanted to make sure that… we could be honorific to events, not worry about chasing events, but realize that yes, people are—rightly or wrongly—going to draw some parallels with what we’re doing.”
Still, Ridley notes that his story is much more grounded in themes of loss and the personal and emotional stakes of the families, both the victim’s and the perpetrators’. “It’s not about the police. It’s not about the prosecutors. It’s really about the family,” he said. “These events take months, if not years, to deal with and sometimes then there’s not a resolution.”
However, viewers may get resolution within the 11-episode first season. As ABC boss Paul Lee earlier noted, American Crime will follow the True Detective format, introducing a new crime and a new set of characters each season.
American Crime premieres Thursday, March 5, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.