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Why American Crime is a must-watch for South Africans

2018-02-26 06:00

In October 2017, SAPS released the crime stats for the current year: over two million serious crimes were reported in South Africa, which was a slight increase of 0.12%.

It’s clear that, unfortunately, South Africans are no strangers to crime, and it’s not getting better any time soon. So why, when we’re faced with crime on a daily basis, would we want to watch a series about crime in America?

Here are three reasons.

1. Different perspectives on the same crime

American Crime is an anthology series, which means that each season deals with a totally different story; in this case, a totally different crime. Season 1 sees a war vet killed and his wife critically injured in a home invasion. And Season 2 is about a boy’s accusations of sexual assault against two star basketball players at an elite private school.

They may deal with different perpetrators, victims, prosecution and defence, but in both seasons, we see one crime from many different perspectives. This is not the stylised and romanticised crime you might find on shows like CSI. Nothing is black and white, and there are no clear-cut heroes or villains – no matter how horrific their actions, the suspects are human, flawed and vulnerable, just like in real life. It’s not often that one crime is examined with such nuance on TV.

2. Throwing light on issues of race, religion and sexuality

In Season 1, the murder of Matt Skokie and the assault of his wife Gwen bring together two sets of parents with very different ideals. Matt’s mother Barb (Felicity Huffman, in an Emmy-nominated role) fixates on the fact that all three men allegedly involved in the murder are either “illegals” or black, while Gwen’s parents are horrified to learn that Matt had been dealing drugs out of his house for years, and that their daughter had looked to other men for comfort.

Meanwhile, the main murder suspect Carter and his white “junkie” girlfriend Aubry struggle to deal with separation while he’s awaiting trial in jail. Carter’s sister, Aliya (Regina King, who took the Emmy for her role), gets her Islamic community to pool their money together for his bail, but he has to abide by her rules - respect her religion; and stay away from Aubry.

This season shows the melting pot that is modern-day America, and how the stigma against Mexican-Americans and the stereotypes of young black men harm them at every turn.

Season 2 explores the themes of homophobia and wealth, privilege and class issues, as we see a boy from an elite private school having shocking photos of him posted on social media. He accuses two championship basketball players from a public school of drugging, assaulting and photographing him. And this is where it gets messy - one of the students he accuses is gay and in the closet, and the other is black. Of course, it’s his word against theirs, and, while he comes from a position of privilege, it’s difficult for his family to get the authorities to take his accusation seriously, as it so often can be when it comes to sex crimes.

None of these issues are unique to the US and many of them are prevalent in South Africa today. Drug abuse and gangsterism are rife in poorer communities; our society is still divided along racial lines thanks, in part, to apartheid geography and the long-held privilege that whites continue to enjoy; coming out of the closet can lead to your murder, depending on where you live; and murder during home invasions is not uncommon. It’s called American Crime, but these violations of human rights are experienced worldwide.

3. Taking you out of your comfort zone

As you can probably tell, American Crime is not easy watching. It’s not one of those series you can binge-watch. The crimes committed, including those against the perpetrators, are so disturbing that you’re going to want to take a break after every episode to watch something more light-hearted (hi, Silicon Valley, Season 4!).

But it’s series like these that make you question your own beliefs, that force you to put yourselves in other people’s shoes (“That boy is obviously lying, how can his mother protect him?”), that make you think about how difficult life is for people who might not be as privileged as you are. And sometimes, that’s what makes for really good TV.

Watch American Crime as many other great series and movies on Showmax. Sign up for Showmax today and you get a 14-day FREE trial. If you’re a DStv Premium subscriber, get Showmax at no extra cost. Find out how here. If you're a DStv Compact subscriber, get Showmax for R49. Find out more here


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