S.W.A.T.’s Aaron Rahsaan Thomas: Hollywood Has to “Expand the Point of View” on Cop Shows

S.W.A.T.‘s Aaron Rahsaan Thomas: Hollywood Has to "Expand the Point of View" on Cop Shows

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Chris Harnick

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Tue., Jun. 9, 2020 2:23 PM

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You know the scene all too well: A police officer, unable to get the information out of a suspect, resort to threats that turn into violence. Now, they’ve got what they need. In the real world it’d most likely be a lawsuit and disciplinary action. On TV, it’s the vigilante cop. The cop who wants justice at any means necessary, no matter the oath to serve and protect. There have been countless TV shows like this, and that’s what needs to change according to the people who make them.

In an essay with Vanity Fair, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, the co-creator of CBS’s S.W.A.T. opened up about what needs to change behind the scenes when it comes to police procedurals. Thomas, one of the few black showrunners, specifically on a broadcast TV procedural, said he’s a “rare creature” because of that very fact.

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“A black man who has made a career, in part, writing for network police shows, having eventually created my own show, S.W.A.T., for CBS,” he wrote. “For me, writing television can never simply be about entertainment. Many people in Hollywood have a fear of being didactic, preaching messages that risk making an audience feel uncomfortable. But, in the shadow of George Floyd‘s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officers, a question persists—how are the shows we are writing contributing to perceptions of the justice system, class, race, and the image of black men? I look at this, not as a creative burden, but a necessary responsibility.”

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S.W.A.T. stars Shemar Moore, Alex Russell, Jay Harrington, Lina Esco, Kenny Johnson, David Lim, Patrick St. Esprit and Amy Farrington. Inspired by the TV show and movie of the same name, the new version follows Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson (Moore), a former Marine and S.W.A.T. sergeant in charge of a specialized tactical unit in Los Angeles. Thomas created the series with Shawn Ryan. Ryan created The Shield, an FX series starring Michael Chiklis as a corrupt police officer.

In his Vanity Fair essay, Thomas recounted the history of procedurals, including Dragnet in the 1950s requiring approval by the LAPD, and the opinion once shared by David Simon that black writers are unable to write universal stories (the type most broadcast procedurals strive for).

“Black procedural writers before me often took an approach of wanting to be seen simply as writers, using a ‘colorblind’ method that in theory levels the playing field, but in actuality devalues and negates any point of view different from the status quo. If anything is going to change, this mindset must be recalibrated,” he wrote. “I take this task personally, and it’s one reason I include my middle name on all of my professional credits to clearly indicate that I am a black writer. Instead of using a colorblind approach, increasing empathy for diverse thought and life experiences would be more ideal.”

In addition to casting, diversity needs to happen behind the scenes as well. Thomas wrote, “if the voice behind the characters remains consistently and almost exclusively white, diversity is literally only skin deep.”

“The goal should be to increase perspectives, both in front of and behind the camera. It would be great to see more police officers portrayed as having the power to empathize, or at least a humility and desire to acquire such an ability,” he said.

Thomas said when he hears colleagues ponder whether enough has been done to address the image of the hero cop, “a procedural staple,” his answer is clear: “hell f–king no.”

“There’s a ton of work we still have to do,” he said. “The question is, how sincere will we be about putting in that work?”

What can be done instead of lip service?

“We, as creators in Hollywood, have to be willing to expand the point of view from which these stories are told. Instead of focusing simply on what makes our jobs easier and more convenient, real change requires hard and sometimes uncomfortable work, conversations, and consideration,” Thomas said. “Failure to do this can have real-life consequences. Ultimately, efforts to improve can and will lead to better TV shows, more nuanced cop procedurals, and, who knows, maybe even impact real-world interactions between police and community.”

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Law & Order: SVU showrunner Warren Leight was asked the very question at the center of Thomas’ piece—What can be done?—and pondered that in a lengthy interview with THR. Leight said in advance of the history-making season 21, he staffed the writers room with new voices, including people who never wrote for television before.

“I put together a new staff and I made a conscious effort to bring in new voices, fresh voices, different voices and it was a radically different writers room than we had seen, even than the ones I put together years earlier. There is a tendency, and I think we’re all becoming more aware of our responsibilities about that, to hire people you know,” Leight said. “You’re putting together a writers team and you go out to the usual suspects, the agents push the usual suspects, and there’s an experience level you want your writers to have and because the usual suspects have that experience and the guys who found the doors closed to them don’t have that experience, it works against them.”

Hiring outside “usual suspects” is a start, Leight said, but there’s more to be done.

“I think we’ve tried really hard in the last year to show how class and race affect the outcomes of justice in society, but I’m beginning to suspect ‘really hard’ wasn’t enough,” Leight said. “This has to be a moment where people make themselves uncomfortable, where people in power have to make themselves uncomfortable.”

Law & Order: SVU, the longest-running primetime scripted drama, plans to tackle George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests calling for police reform in the new season.

“There are ways, we will find our way in to tell the story. Presumably our cops will still be trying to do the right thing, but it will be harder for them and they will understand why it will be harder for them,” he said.

Both S.W.A.T. and SVU were renewed for new seasons. S.W.A.T. has been earmarked for midseason, however when any show will premiere this fall is still up in the air due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Ne-Yo Delivers Emotional Performance During George Floyd’s Funeral

Ne-Yo Delivers Emotional Performance During George Floyd’s Funeral

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Elyse Dupre

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Tue., Jun. 9, 2020 2:38 PM

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Ne-Yo attended a funeral service for George Floyd at the Fountain of Grace Church in Houston, Texas on Tuesday. There, the 40-year-old artist performed a rendition of Boyz II Men‘s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” in Floyd’s honor.

At a few points, Ne-Yo appeared to hold back tears and briefly paused. However, mourners cheered him on and encouraged him to finish the song.

“God Bless,” the three-time Grammy winner said after the tribute.

Ne-Yo also shared a few words before the performance. He sent “much love and strength” to Floyd’s family, as well as to “anybody that’s been lost.”

“Fifty states are protesting at the same time,” he said at one point. “This man changed the world, changed the world for better.”

Ne-Yo also said he wanted to “personally thank George Floyd for his sacrifice” so that his kids can be all right later on. “I appreciate the sacrifice, my brother,” he added. “I genuinely do.”

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Celebrities Speak Out in Response to George Floyd’s Death

Ne-Yo wasn’t the only celebrity in attendance. Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, Kim Burrell, J.J. Watt, Dray Tate, Floyd Mayweather, Kathy Taylor and more stars were there, as well. Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee also shared a few words, and many of Floyd’s family members spoke. The Rev. Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy.

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Memorial services for Floyd were also held in Minnesota and North Carolina last week, and a viewing of his body was held in Houston yesterday.

Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds during an arrest. Chauvin was fired from the police department and arrested. He is facing charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin appeared in court via video conference on Monday but did not enter a plea. Per NBC NewsJudge Jeannice Reding set bail at $1.25 million with no preconditions or at $1 million with conditions.”

Three other officers involved in the arrest—J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao—were also fired and arrested. They are facing charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“Thomas Lane and J.A. Kueng held Mr. Floyd by the legs and hips to further restrict movement,” a press release from the office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison stated. “Tou Thao stood guard to prevent members of the public, who gathered nearby to witness the police action, from intervening to aid Mr. Floyd.”

Kueng, Lane and Thao appeared in court last week but did not enter any pleas. NBC News reported they were ordered to be held on “an unconditional bail of $1 million compounded with $750,000 of conditional bail.”

The former officers are all still in custody.

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Prince Andrew and Federal Prosecutors Go Head-to-Head Over Jeffrey Epstein Investigation

Prince Andrew and Federal Prosecutors Go Head-to-Head Over Jeffrey Epstein Investigation

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Cydney Contreras

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Mon., Jun. 8, 2020 6:48 PM

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Prince Andrew has yet to participate in a formal interview with U.S. federal prosecutors regarding his alleged ties to convicted sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein

In a new statement from U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman released Monday, he claimed the Duke of York continues to evade questioning by authorities investigating the case. Berman’s statement contradicts what Prince Andrew’s legal team has said about his willingness to sit down for an interview.

“Today, Prince Andrew yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to cooperate with an ongoing federal criminal investigation into sex trafficking and related offenses committed by Jeffrey Epstein and his associates, even though the Prince has not given an interview to federal authorities, has repeatedly declined our request to schedule such an interview, and nearly four months ago informed us unequivocally—through the very same counsel who issued today’s release—that he would not come in for such an interview,” the attorney stated.

Berman concluded, “If Prince Andrew is, in fact, serious about cooperating with the ongoing federal investigation, our doors remain open, and we await word of when we should expect him.”

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Berman’s statement comes after Prince Andrew’s legal team claimed that he “on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the DOJ.”

Moreover, his legal team alleged, “Unfortunately, the DOJ has reacted to the first two offers by breaching their own confidentiality rules and claiming that the Duke has offered zero cooperation. In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered.”

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However, NBC News reported Monday that the U.S. government is now formally requesting the British government’s assistance in coordinating an interview with the Duke of York. A source told the outlet that federal authorities are requesting access to the Duke through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, a legal route that is similar to a subpoena. 

According to Prince Andrew’s legal team, he is “not and has never been a ‘target’ of their criminal investigations into Epstein.”  They also said that the DOJ has previously stated that his participation would be “voluntary.” 

Prosecutors seek testimony from the Duke of York because of his connections to Epstein, who died by suicide in Aug. 2019 while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges. 

 

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The prince is accused of having sexual relations with a then-17-year-old Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claimed she was sex trafficked by Epstein and his former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell. The royal has said that he doesn’t recall ever meeting her—despite a widely circulated picture of himself and the teen believed to be taken inside the London home of Maxwell in 2001. 

“I have absolutely no memory of that photograph ever being taken,” the Duke of York said in a 2019 interview with the BBC, going as far to suggest that the photo was altered. “I don’t remember going upstairs in the house because that photograph was taken upstairs and I am not entirely convinced that… I mean that is… that is what I would describe as me in that. We can’t be certain as to whether or not that’s my hand on her whatever it is, left… left side.”

The controversy surrounding his friendship with Epstein and his widely-criticized response to the allegations ultimately led the prince to step down from his role as an acting member of the Royal Family.

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U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Calls for Repeal of National Anthem Protest Policy

U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Calls for Repeal of National Anthem Protest Policy

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McKenna Aiello

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Mon., Jun. 8, 2020 7:06 PM

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The U.S. women’s national soccer team has called on the U.S. Soccer Federation to repeal a policy that requires players to stand during the national anthem. 

In a statement obtained by ESPN, the team says, We believe the Federation should immediately repeal the ‘Anthem Policy,’ publish a statement acknowledging the policy was wrong when it was adopted, and issue an apology to our Black players and supporters.” 

The U.S. Soccer Federation voted to pass the policy after U.S. women’s national team midfielder Megan Rapinoe kneeled for the playing of the national anthem during a 2016 match. She described it as a “little nod” to former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who led a league-wide movement protesting against police brutality and racial injustice. 

“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” Rapinoe told American Soccer Now at the time. “It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”

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Women’s National Soccer Team at Parade of Champions 2019

The USWNT’s statement continued, “Further, we believe the Federation should lay out its plans on how it will now support the message and movement that it tried to silence four years ago. Until USSF does so, the mere existence of the policy will continue to perpetuate the misconceptions and fear that clouded the true meaning and significance of Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe and other athletes taking a knee—that Black people in America have not been and continue to not be afforded the same liberties and freedoms as white people and that police brutality and systemic racism exist in this country.”

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“This is everybody’s responsibility, including this union and its members; we could and should have done more in the past. We are committed to rising up against racist, hateful and unjust acts to effect change. Black lives matter,” the statement concluded.

According to ESPN sources, the U.S. Soccer Federation is set to discuss repealing the policy during a conference call on Tuesday. 

If the organization votes to move forward with the policy’s repeal, ESPN reports it would take effect immediately. 

E! News reached out to the U.S. Soccer Federation for comment. 

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Porsha Williams, Kandi Burruss & Gizelle Bryant Talk Racism, Voting & More With E!’s Justin Sylvester

Porsha Williams, Kandi Burruss & Gizelle Bryant Talk Racism, Voting & More With E!’s Justin Sylvester

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Alyssa Ray

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Mon., Jun. 8, 2020 8:43 PM

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Gary Gershoff/Getty Images / Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

A candid conversation.

On Monday, Daily Pop co-host Justin Sylvester appeared on Bravo’s Instagram Live to host an open dialogue about being black in the United States. The E! personality was joined by The Real Housewives of Atlanta stars Kandi Burruss and Porsha Williams, as well as The Real Housewives of Potomac star Gizelle Bryant.

In individual live segments with the Bravolebrities, Justin covered a range of topics from experiences with racism to thoughts on the upcoming election to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.

“I want to thank you for coming. This is an open dialogue about what’s happening right now in America and without you guys, the people who are willing to listen, change does not happen,” Justin said during the live stream. “I know this is an uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people, trust me it’s uncomfortable for me to have with certain people, but the uncomfortable conversations are the ones that you should be having.”

For Kandi, Porsha and Gizelle’s words on these topics, be sure to scroll through the quotes below.

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On reactions to George Floyd’s death:

Porsha: “It hit me because it was once again another black man I’m watching be killed, but it was in the way that we watched it, how long it took, how long you had to sit through his agony, his pain, all of that.”

Gizelle: “Just to see George Floyd die, ’cause we all saw the video, so after seeing the video you have to have an opinion about what you saw. You can’t walk away from that, I don’t care what color you are, and not have an opinion. It saddened my father ‘cause, here he is 60 years out from all the work he’s done and still no change. Like I said, he worked with Martin Luther King [Jr.]. Martin Luther King had his ‘I Have a Dream’…Clearly, that dream for us has been a nightmare.”

Kandi: “I feel like even though as black people, we’ve been preaching and trying to get the word out for a very long time about police violence in America and the injustice and racism in America, but just now all of a sudden it seems like everybody is finally being able to hear it. I really hate what happened to George Floyd, but obviously, like Porsha said earlier, that video really just tore us all up on the inside having to watch that. It really just showed how real what we’ve been saying for so long, that it is a real thing, we’re not just saying it. This is real.”

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On experiences with racism:           

Porsha: “I’ve definitely dealt with racism on the workplace, I’ve dealt with racism just in everyday life, I’ve dealt with it as a child. At the end of the day, we are trying to live in this black skin in the world that’s telling us that we are not equal to them. So, you’re going to face that in different ways, whomever you are, if you’re living in black skin.”

Gizelle: “To bring it a little closer to home for me, I have a 15-year-old who’s in high school and then I have twins that are in the eighth grade, but when my twins were in sixth grade, Angel, one of the twins, she went to school and on her desk was the N-word.”

Kandi: “If we are never there to have a say, then you will find it where it’s someone of another race is always trying to do what they think works for the black community…When I say this I’m not excluding Bravo, ’cause I see people who are making comments. I, myself, have already started having conversations with our network to bring these questions up. And I know my sisters on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, we are having these conversations amongst each other, of how we can have our production company and our network support us.”

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Celebrities Attending Protests Over George Floyd’s Death

On the importance of voting:

Porsha: “If you’re activating and you’re marching, that is amazing, but also get to those polls and be an affective voter…That’s the only selfie I want to see, ok? Your selfie in line. That’s it.”

Gizelle: “So this year, for the state of Maryland, the primary was on June 2. So, because of COVID, they mailed us our ballots, right? And on the ballot was of course, you know, president all that, but on the back were all the judges. You gotta know who your judges are, because the judges are the people that are going to send you, being black, potentially to jail unfairly or not.”

Kandi: “At the end of the day, we have to keep voting and we have to really keep voting at our local elections. Those are the elections that affect us directly…People always want to run to the polls when it’s time to vote for president, we know, we know. But, as we’ve seen in our past presidency…I mean, I love [President Barack] Obama. I love Obama, but we know that a lot of times he couldn’t get things pushed through because the House did not support him, he did not have enough votes. With that being said, a person in power is still lifted and held up by the people beneath, you know what I’m saying? So, don’t think you’re just gonna vote for the person on top and think you do not need to vote for all the people that are upholding things and making laws that are beneath the president. You need to vote for everyone.”

Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Black Music Honors / Astrid Stawiarz/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

On the protests against police brutality:

Porsha: “We’re all at home with our families and I think during that time the world’s mindset was, ‘Family is everything.’ We all were in the mindset of loving one another, being in this together. So, it was almost a perfect storm when we saw that video of George Floyd being killed because, when we heard him call for his mother it hit us in that very soft spot of ‘we care about our family.'”

Gizelle: “The protests that my kids made me go to—90 percent white. It was organized by teenagers. It was about 3,000 people there. It was amazing. And to see this organized by white, young, mostly girls gave me hope. It gave me inspiration.”

Kandi: “Let’s talk about how people woke up around the world, not just in the United States. I mean, to see people protesting all the way in Paris, seeing them in London, in Amsterdam, in Tokyo, more places than I can even name. But, just to see even the Amish were out protesting…at first, we’re saying police violence is something that affects America. But racism, affects the world.”

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On how to get involved and implement change:

Porsha: “I really think everybody sees this window of opportunity, I really do believe that people want this to be changed in a real way…There’s a website called SURJ, S-U-R-J, Showing Up for Racial Justice. I like to give it out because it’s a website with a wealth of information about racial injustice from a white person to tell another white person…If people can look up different quality organizations who are trying to help the movement. So, you have NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter, different ones just look them up and see what they’re about.”

Gizelle: “Some of my white friends have called me and they’ve apologized and they are like, ‘Gizelle, what should I do?’ And I have to be frank with them and tell them, ‘Whatever you’ve been doing, do the opposite!’…But, more importantly, whatever your domain is, whatever you are over, whatever your responsibility is, like the principal, fix it. Change it. You have the ability to change whatever you are responsible for.”

Kandi: “I love the fact that we have so many allies right now. So, when they ask us, once again, what can they do to help us? What can they do to rectify what has been years and years and years of racism? We have to start by making sure we are included. If you go to an executive meeting where the top people in your company are all at the table and you do not see one black person, or even if you see 20 of y’all and there’s only one black person, you need to have a conversation. There is something not right.”

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Stars Donating to Black Lives Matter Organizations

You can find the entire conversation on Bravo’s Instagram account here.

For more ways to take action and get involved, please click here.

(E! and Bravo are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)

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