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‘Law & Order: Hate Crimes’ hopes to create a ‘dialogue’ like SVU did for sexual assault, says Dick Wolf

By Antonia Noori Farzan

September 5, 2018 at 4:12 AM

Producer Dick Wolf attends a celebration for the 400th episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” in New York in January 2017. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Several years ago, researchers at Washington State University sent out a survey to freshmen, asking about their views on sexual assault. In the same survey, they asked the students what crime shows they watched on TV.

Their findings, published in 2015, indicated that, for many students, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” may have provided an education of its own. The survey found the NBC show had an overall positive effect on students’ understanding of consent and sexual assault — issues that many universities have been grappling with for years.

Although the researchers couldn’t prove causation, they found students who watched the show “were less likely to buy into rape myths, more likely to adhere to their partner’s decision about whether or not to have sex, and more likely to say no themselves to sexual activity they did not want,” The Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera reported.

Now, the show’s creators, Dick Wolf and Warren Leight, are taking on another topic that’s plucked from the headlines — and likely to lead to controversy. “Law & Order: Hate Crimes” will air on NBC at a yet-to-be-determined date, the network announced Tuesday

In a statement, Wolf credited SVU for starting conversations about rape and sexual assault, and expressed hope the spinoff would have a similar effect.

“Twenty years ago when ‘SVU’ began, very few people felt comfortable coming forward and reporting these crimes,” he said, “but when you bring the stories into people’s living rooms — with characters as empathetic as Olivia Benson — a real dialogue can begin. That’s what I hope we can do with this new show in a world where hate crimes have reached an egregious level.”

In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, Lisa Katz, co-president of scripted programming at NBC Entertainment, called the spinoff “extremely timely.”

“Considering that last year there was a double-digit rise in hate crimes in our 10 largest cities — the highest total in over a decade — it seemed like this topic is begging to be explored,” she said, possibly referring to a May report released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. That study found a 12 percent increase in hate crimes reported in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose between 2016 and 2017.

[The surprising racial and gender bias in ‘Law and Order’]

In both 2015 and 2016, the FBI saw an increase in the number of hate crimes reported to law enforcement, with a significant uptick in the number of incidents targeting Jews, Muslims and the LGBT community. Analyzing that data, The Washington Post found the number of hate crimes involving racial or ethnic bias rose the day after Donald Trump won the 2016 election. The FBI has yet to release statistics for 2017.

Since submitting data on hate crimes to the FBI is voluntary for police departments, however, those numbers don’t present a full picture of the number of bias crimes taking place across the country. As The Washington Post’s Abigail Hauslohner reported last year, several states don’t have hate crime statutes in place. In many cases, prosecutors may choose not to pursue hate crime charges, which can be hard to prove.

As flawed as the statistics may be, there’s no question that hate crimes have been appearing in the headlines with some regularity. In the summer, Nazi symbols were found outside a synagogue in Indiana, a California woman allegedly beat a 91-year-old Mexican man with a brick and told him to go back to his country, and Egyptian exchange students were allegedly attacked at a McDonald’s in Florida and told that they didn’t “deserve American food.” In March, a Kansas man pleaded guilty to fatally shooting a man from India, thinking he and his friend were Iranian, after yelling, “Get out of my country.” And those are just a few recent examples.

The series will be based on the New York Police Department’s real-life Hate Crimes Task Force, one of the oldest in the country. It will feature the stories of “an elite, specially trained team of investigators” who “stop at nothing to bring these criminals to justice,” NBC said.

Wolf said in a statement that his goal for the series was to “depict what’s really going on in our cities and shine a light on the wide-ranging victims and show that justice can prevail.”

The spinoff has already faced some preemptive criticism, based on the assumption that minorities who are already underrepresented in television will be cast in a “victim” role. (NBC has yet to make any announcements about the show’s casting, but Wolf and Leight, the two creators, are both white men.)

Other skeptics have expressed a lack of interest in watching a show based on a reality that’s already too familiar to many marginalized communities.

“Why would I watch a fictitious show when I can turn on my . . . tv every day and see it in reality!?!” wrote one Twitter user.

Kevin Allred, a Brooklyn-based writer, commented sarcastically, “With a rise in actual hate crimes since the 2016 election, the thing we definitely need most is to be subjected to lots of fictionalized hate crimes on network tv too.”

It’s not hard to imagine how a spinoff that deals with issues of race, religion and sexuality could cause controversy. “The entire concept seems designed to provoke,” Slate assistant editor Marissa Martinelli wrote.

In Vanity Fair, writer Laura Bradley questioned whether the show’s creators “have the deft hand required to make truly insightful television out of such a topical, fraught subject.”

Die-hard SVU fans, on the other hand, are thrilled to be getting even more “Law & Order” episodes to binge-watch.

Though NBC has not announced when “Law & Order: Hate Crimes” will begin airing, the Hollywood Reporter speculates it will probably premiere “sometime in 2019.” NBC has made a 13-episode commitment to the new series, which will be introduced to viewers during an episode of SVU’s coming 20th season.

More from Morning Mix:

Suspect flees police into toxic Florida algae — then desperately pleads for their help

‘Offensive and distasteful’: Aretha Franklin’s family blasts ‘black-on-black crime’ eulogy


Antonia Noori Farzan is a reporter on The Washington Post's Morning Mix team. She previously worked at the Phoenix New Times.

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Morning Mix

‘Law & Order: Hate Crimes’ hopes to create a ‘dialogue’ like SVU did for sexual assault, says Dick Wolf

By Antonia Noori Farzan

September 5, 2018 at 4:12 AM

Producer Dick Wolf attends a celebration for the 400th episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” in New York in January 2017. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Several years ago, researchers at Washington State University sent out a survey to freshmen, asking about their views on sexual assault. In the same survey, they asked the students what crime shows they watched on TV.

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