During Color of Change’s Sundance panel “Looking Forward: The Future of Crime Television,” Terence Paul Winter, executive producer and screenwriter of The recruit; Sunil Nayar, former writer / showrunner of All stand up; and Melody Cooper, writer and editor of Law & Order SVU unboxed a topic that has an impact on TV storytelling more than ever: the portrayal of the police and the criminal justice system in this country.
As the math of social justice and authentic portrayal in Hollywood continues to move forward and wage an uphill battle for systemic change, the writers have spoken out about the changing landscape when it comes to the storytelling of their shows. . After the murder of George Floyd, the landscape changed dramatically when it came to portraying stories involving the police, the justice system, and the justice system. It is a struggle that has been ignored for too long and change is happening slowly but surely.
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Hosted by Kristen Marston, Culture and Entertainment Advocacy Director for Color Of Change, the conversation between Winter, Cooper and Nayar was candid and eye-opening as they discussed their experiences while working on TV series. Some of their experiences have been good and some of them will make you raise your eyebrows. Either way, the trio are making changes and being more vocal when it comes to making changes in the storytelling of crime shows.
For Cooper, she came to SVU as a playwright who has focused heavily on issues of social justice – two things that have helped her tell authentic stories. More than that, she started to get really involved with the intersection of TV writing and social justice when her brother Chris Cooper, was part of the viral video that made headlines when a woman took the lead. called the cops about him in Central Park while he was dealing with him. own business and bird watching. “It’s a chance for me to put my money where my mouth is,” said Cooper, whose own experiences and talents are aimed at making a difference.
For Winter, he said that one thing detective shows need is an honest portrayal of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. With the work they do on their shows, he asks, “What are the effects of what we do and how does that affect the community as a whole?” In other words, how do the characters on their shows and their experiences influence what we see in the real world.
He uses the role of Morgan Freeman in The angel has fallen and Dennis Haysbert on 24 as an example by saying that while that wasn’t the only reason Barack Obama was elected president – but it didn’t hurt.
That said, Winter points out if crime dramas like SVU, the recruit and All stand up tell honest stories with the police, it won’t be so categorical. Everyone has different experiences with the police or the justice system – so why not show this? This is very relevant when the police and the justice system deal with Blacks and Maroons.
Winter went on to say that if the police portraits were honest, people wouldn’t think the police’s treatment of people of color would be believed by more people. “We have the opportunity to be part of the solution,” said Winter.
For Nayar, he had a moment where he wondered what he was doing when he first worked on CSI: Miami where every episode ended with a white man shooting someone. “What am I putting on TV?” Nayar asked. He started to re-evaluate what he was doing and things got even clearer during the calculation – especially with his experience on All stand up.
Nayar, along with many people of color on staff, have resigned their posts on CBS crime drama All stand up when there were disputes over how showrunner Greg Spottiswood handled race and gender. The show is directed by a black woman and the cast includes a majority of people of color. “It opened my eyes,” Nayar said of his experience with the show.
During the panel, he said: “The idea that one can be criticized for being conscious is so strange.” Nayar further explained the division of the conversation about diversity in series – especially crime series. He said it’s still “a conversation that exists versus the conversation that is”.
Nayar, who also worked on the hyper-inclusive limited series The Red line, continued to say on the subject of this nature. In particular, he said that when the issues that impact marginalized communities are in the right hands, it is a good thing, but when it is in the wrong hands, “you are fighting an uphill battle.”
Cooper explained how organizations like Color of Change are helping to bring about this change and lead the battle. With SVU As a first show, Cooper said she was one of the only marginalized voices in the writers’ room, making it harder to speak up. By involving the organization in SVU team, it helped strengthen Cooper’s voice for authentic storytelling. She said that with the support of Color of Change, she felt empowered to speak up louder.
If anything, the panel has aligned itself with the ongoing “Representation Matters” movement – but with portraying black and brown stories in a crime series, it’s even more relevant. It’s not just about ticking boxes and having them in the room as a token, it’s, as Winter said, “empowering them.”