Thursday, June 22, 2017

American Crime: Props to John Ridley and Richard Cabral

Recently I watched the first and second seasons of American Crime. This is a very well done show, and I've recommended it to several people (including Chap, with whom I had a great visit in Richmond yesterday).

A crime (or an alleged crime) is viewed from the perspective of multiple characters, but the police and prosecutors play a much less central role than in most crime procedurals. Instead, the story focuses on relationship dynamics and the way that major social issues (including race, class and immigration) affect the lives of "real people".

The characters are fleshed out and substantive. Each character has flaws, and each character has things to admire (or at least to contemplate admiring). Nobody is one dimensional, and as with other shows that I have most enjoyed watching in the past several years (The Wire, Six Feet Under), I felt genuinely drawn into the characters' struggles and emotions. In other words, the writers and directors created people about whom I actually care.

For me, creating these kinds of characters -- and then illustrating how they respond to questions that can affect us all -- is one of the things that the best fiction (literature, movies, or television) does.

The creator of American Crime is John Ridley. It turns out that Ridley wrote the screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, which is one of the most powerful films I've seen in the past several years.

I'd put Ridley up there with David Simon as one of our great current auteurs, and I am already looking forward to what he does next.

In the first season, the character of Hector Tontz (played by Richard Cabral) had a particularly strong effect on me. Hector is involved in the underlying crime, and initially he comes across as lacking remorse and spiteful -- bordering on downright mean.

Over the course of the show, Hector's plight illustrates some of the prejudices and racism with which immigrants deal, and I discovered he has many redeeming qualities. By show's end, I was desperately rooting for him.

And wow, Cabral is a great actor. In a show where the acting is uniformly strong (it really is an ensemble effort, like The Wire), Cabral's expressions, eyes, and voice were uniquely captivating. I'm not sure whether I actually had tears for the final scene, but I was definitely close.

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