Story at a glance
- Inaccurate portrayals of crime and the criminal justice system in television are affecting how viewers see reality.
- A report from Color of Change Hollywood revealed just how few Black people were involved in the making of these shows.
- ”The Rookie” worked with the organization to address these issues, but its not clear whether it will be enough.
Cop shows give a new meaning to the phrase “guilty pleasure” — no pun intended. Crime series on television have changed the way Americans see law enforcement and the criminal justice system in the real world, and research shows it's not for the better.
But in response to a recent study from a media watchdog, one show is promising a change. “The Rookie,” which follows the oldest rookie at the Los Angeles Police Department, debuted in 2018 on ABC to an average of more than 7 million viewers.
Then in 2019, actor Afton Williamson, who plays the role of Talia Bishop, left the show, saying she experienced racial discrimination and racially charged inappropriate comments from the hair department and bullying from executive producers, as well as sexual harassment from recurring guest star Demetrius Grosse. Afton alleged that she reported this to the showrunner and a union representative, but that nothing was done.
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"I turned it down and I walked. Now is the best time in the world to be a woman and I have a platform so it’s time to use my Voice. Strength comes from within. It comes from Above," she wrote in an Instagram post.
After she went public, Entertainment One, which co-produced the series with ABC, launched an investigation, but found that no “inappropriate” workplace behavior had taken place. Grosse’s attorney said in a statement he was "wrongfully accused and has been exonerated of the alleged misconduct."
Afton was devastated, she shared in a post on Instagram, saying, "In order to Be the Change, I want to see, I will Continue to Work so that Casts & Crews alike finally See Words Align With Action. We’ve got to Do Better as an Industry. It’s just Talk until you actually Do Something."
Now, the show is promising change — on screen at least. In response to a report by Color of Change Hollywood, which found that writers of color were often excluded from such shows, the show partnered with the organization for writers room meetings, script reviews and discussions on issues in the criminal justice system.
"As The Rookie began Season Three, we were committed to going beyond our aspirational storytelling to focus on issues of systemic injustice and the need for police reform,” said Alexi Hawley, executive producer of The Rookie. “Color Of Change has been an invaluable partner in that mission, and our stories have been impacted in a myriad of ways because of their insight and guidance.”
The third season premiered on Jan. 3 with its titular character, John Nolan — played by Nathan Fillion — earning a letter of reprimand, threatening his career.
“He got as close to getting fired as he could,” Hawley told TVLine. “I do think that it’s very important that actions have repercussions, and noble cause corruption is a huge thing. It is a big problem of policing, but it’ll also open up other opportunities for him, and it’ll give him something to try and overcome, which is ultimately more dramatic than him just getting an easy pass.”
The next few episodes show him and other characters working in a community policing center as they deal with some of the issues surrounding policing in the United States. In an interview with Deadline, Hawley said the season will incorporate further conversations about police brutality sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd.
But is it enough? The show still has just a handful of Black writers in a majority-white writers room, raising the question of how deep this change actually goes.
“If the genre continues to exclude writers of color, miseducate people about the criminal justice system, and normalize racial injustice, it makes our work to create a better world for Black people much more difficult,” said Kristen Marston, culture and entertainment advocacy director at Color Of Change. “Color Of Change is proud to serve as a consultant for The Rookie and other crime TV shows, but we are not a replacement for Black writers, showrunners and creators – whose consistent contributions to the storylines are critical.”
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