ABC/Ryan Green

Posted by on Jan 9, 2016 in Voice-Over | 0 comments

the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools canceled the Ooletewah High School basketball season after the report and subsequent charging of three basketball players with sexual assault, indicates that, sadly, these terrible things aren’t just fiction.

Indiana, where this season of “American Crime” is set, even has its own dark history with basketball and sexual assault. In 2010, four coaches resigned amidst multiple players being charged with assaulting another player on the bus and in the locker room.

Here, in this fictional town, we’re introduced to Leyland, a private school in the Indianapolis area. The first scene is the voiceover of a woman reporting a rape, followed by a shot in the high school’s gym, the camera panning the wall, showing off numerous state championship banners. Two players square off on the court, as a young man watches from the sidelines.

From the outset, it’s clear that basketball will matter in this story (spoiler alert: It does. A lot). Before we get into that, however, some introductions.

Taylor Blaine, American Crime

AMERICAN CRIME, Season 2, Ep. 1: Issues of sexual orientation and socioeconomic disparity come to a roil when lurid photos of a high school boy, Taylor Blaine, are posted on social media following a school party.

Characters What We Know

Taylor Blaine (Connor Jessup): A poor student at Leyland who doesn’t have many friends. While watching basketball practice, he receives text messages of pictures, presumably from a classmate, that show him drunk with his pants around his ankles and vomit on his shirt. Taylor is suspended for the pictures, as they, according to the principal, violate the school’s code of conduct. After much coaxing, and an emotional conversation with his mother, Taylor reveals that he thinks he was drugged and assaulted by basketball players at that party.

Anne Blaine (Lili Taylor): Taylor’s mother, who only wants what’s best for him, including a diploma from Leyland and a college degree. She manages a local diner. She reports her son’s story to school officials and is blown off. After feeling dismissed, hurt and angry, she calls 911 to report Taylor’s story to the police.

Leslie Graham (Felicity Huffman): The reputation-obsessed, high-powered principal of Leyland. Once confronted with the allegations by Anne, she conducts an “investigation,” which is really just telling the basketball coach to talk to the boys and see if they know anything. When nothing turns up, she reconnects with Anne to tell her that Taylor’s suspension will stand, as his claims haven’t been corroborated.

Dan Sullivan (Timothy Hutton): The basketball coach who, at present, is much more concerned with controlling his own daughter than the off-court activities of his players. We first meet him as he takes a video of a cheerleader dancing on one of his players. It’s really creepy, but the girl turns out to be his daughter, which is even creepier. He and his wife confront their daughter to talk about self-respect, and why she shouldn’t go all Miley Cyrus on the boys. It’s weird.

Steph Sullivan (Hope Davis): Coach Sullivan’s wife, who is also concerned about her daughter. She turns 50 in a week. That’s all we know.

Becca Sullivan (Sky Azure Van Vliet): The aforementioned daughter caught giving her best Miley Cyrus impression. So far her only role in the story is to be yelled at by her parents.

Evy Dominguez (Angelique Rivera): Taylor’s girlfriend, who is another poor student at Leyland. We meet Evy as she returns home from school. She appears to be the primary caretaker of her ill mother, and support system for her father.

Kevin LaCroix (Trevor Jackson): One of Leyland’s star basketball players who comes from a well-to-do, black family. He receives a lot of pressure from his mother. After electing to pass the ball instead of taking the game-winning shot, she berates him in the car.

Terri LaCroix (Regina King): Kevin’s mother who seems to be very concerned with appearances. She doesn’t like Kevin’s girlfriend, and she wants him to date someone from a “good family.”

Michael LaCroix (Andre Benjamin): We know very little about him except that he spends a lot of time calling out his wife regarding the expectations she has for their son and the prejudices she spouts.

Eric Tanner (Joey Pollari): Another Leyland basketball player. He comes across as struggling and feeling like he has to prove himself. After Kevin beats him in practice, Eric shows his moxy by making the game-winning shot.

AMERICAN CRIME, Season 2, Ep. 1: After a student's parent alleges her son had been sexually assaulted at a basketball party, Coach Sullivan (not pictured) asks the team if they know anything about the incident.

AMERICAN CRIME, Season 2, Ep. 1: After a student’s parent alleges her son had been sexually assaulted at a basketball party, Coach Sullivan (not pictured) asks the team if they know anything about the incident.

Themes Issues

The choice to explore the issue of sexual assault with a male character is an interesting one because sexual assault and rape are tied so closely to “women’s issues.” The reality, however, is that just because men being sexually assaulted is not always talked about does not mean that it is rare.

Rape Culture: Rape and sexual assault will be explored this season, that much is clear. What will be interesting is the intersection of sports, school culture and masculinity that “American Crime” is already setting up. Dropping breadcrumbs, such as Eric saying, “Bitches looking good,” and “so wanna rape that,” about a girl he finds attractive underscore this point. Elements of rape culture and misogyny are further driven home when Kevin begins to physically pressure his girlfriend into moving more quickly than she would like, trying to coax her with the question, “Why can’t you just be fun?” How “American Crime” continues to tease out the layered nature of these issues will ultimately determine this season’s success.

Homophobia: Though not overt, there are moments that signal we will be seeing a substantive discussion about homophobia moving forward. Eric humping Kevin in the locker room may seem like locker room pranks, but that behavior is also typical of an environment where the expectation is that everyone is straight. The mentality being, it’s all fun and games until someone is gay.

Identity: What does it mean to be an affluent black family in an area where most black folks are poor? What does it mean to be a poor white student at a school where most white students are affluent? What does it mean to be poor in general? What does it mean to be a man? These are some of the questions about identity that it looks like “American Crime” will tackle this season. None of them are easy, and all of them are messy.

Lines That Haunt Me

“Why can’t you just be fun?” — Kevin LaCroix

“You should be careful with that word.” — Leslie Graham

“It’s what he didn’t say, things he couldn’t talk about.” — Anne Blaine

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