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John Ridley Reveals Season Two Plot of ‘American Crime’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Executive producer John Ridley doesn’t shy away from tackling tough social issues, as he proved in the first season of ABC’s “American Crime,” which recently earned 10 Emmy nominations.

In the anthology series’ second season, Ridley reveals to Variety exclusively, the show’s central crime will revolve around a high school boy who accuses several players on a championship basketball team at a private school of sexually assaulting him — and taking photos and posting them online.

That storyline will allow the showrunner to explore issues of social economics, education, as well as sexual orientation.

“We wanted to take incidents that sometimes in other shows tend to be week-to-week and episodic and not just use them merely as plot points, but really see how they play out with family, how they have a cascade effect over time, and with the community as well,” he says.

The season will be set in Indianapolis, though like last season, it will be filmed in Austin, Texas. “We wanted a city that could represent America and could represent where we are now, in terms of being of a canvas of America,” says Ridley.

Andre Benjamin and Regina King will star as the parents of one of the teenage boys accused of the crime. “As parents you’re absolutely tested as your kids stand accused,” he says. “Everything you believe about them gets upended.” They’re well-off, so they have the means to defend their son. “People with money have the capacity to protect themselves from the law or use the law to prove their innocence in a way that people who don’t have money don’t,” he says.

Lili Taylor plays the mother of the victim, Connor Jessup (“Falling Skies”). Ridley praises Jessup’s ability to work alongside the seasoned pro. “He’s a young man you’re going to be rooting for,” he says. “He’s got it, he really does.”Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton, who played husband and wife last season, both work at the private school where the incident happens — she’s the headmaster; he’s the basketball coach. “They both have vested interests, they both believe they’re putting the interests of their kids at heart,” says Ridley. “But there end up being some conflicts. Is one protecting the team more than the school? Is one protecting the institution more than these players?”

Elvis Nolasco will also return from last season, this time as the principal of a public school that gets swept up as issues of education get raised. “People have their opinions about public school vs. private school: Is one better set up to deal with students and their needs better than the other?” says Ridley.

He’d originally conceived the season’s storyline about a teenage girl who was assaulted, and was focusing on that issue at the end of last season. “As you can see with the Cosby case, it’s a long, slow movement towards justice,” he said.

But he and his writers changed course as they started to develop the story. “We really thought, if we were going to try to tell a story that is as provocative as it can be, are there other things that we can say?” he says. “We started looking into cases where there was peer-to-peer sexual assault among men. As difficult as it is for society to deal with it among women, for men, every single issue is magnified.”

The statistics, he says, were shocking — in terms of lack of reporting, lack of adjudication. And as part of their research, they met with victims and families. “I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve been in lot of writers’ rooms,” he says. “This is one of the most emotional rooms I’ve ever been in.”

“As much as last year really hit me very emotionally in the creation and watching the show mirror so many things that were going on after Trayvon Martin, through Ferguson and South Carolina, this season hit me very hard. It’s been really tough to deal with.”

Season two of the show begins production in mid-August for a 2016 premiere.

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