Looking to emphasize that its new project exploring a resurgence in the Ku Klux Klan is a serious-minded documentary and not an entertainment reality show, A&E has changed the title of “Generation KKK” to “Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America.”
The cable channel also has sealed a new partnership with civil-rights group Color of Change. The organization will produce segments featuring civil-rights leaders to help provide context to the documentary. Those pieces will air between segments of “Escaping the KKK.” A&E will also produce a post-show town-hall special on ending hate in America.
Set to premiere Jan. 10, “Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America” is an eight-part documentary that looks at the lives of several families involved with the KKK, and efforts to help some members of those families extricate themselves from the hate group. It also examines the way that the Klan encourages the indoctrination and recruitment of children.
“This what happens behind the scenes and how hate groups evolve and continue,” Rob Sharenow, executive vice president and general manager of A&E, told Variety. “That was really the focus of the entire series.”
That message, however, became muddled shortly after A&E announced the series on Sunday. Despite endorsements from civil rights leaders associated with the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and Black Lives Matter, criticism of the series, driven largely by people who had not seen it, mounted online. Actors Wendell Pierce and Ellen Pompeo criticized A&E on Twitter, with Pierce calling for a boycott of the network. Pompeo urged A&E to change its marketing for the show after the network responded to her tweets to assure her that the series is a documentary. Pierce has insisted that A&E provide evidence that the subjects of the documentary were not paid, as the subjects of an entertainment reality program would be. A&E insists that no payment was made to anyone featured in the series.
ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt told Variety that the series is “a laudable effort to understand and expose the Ku Klux Klan from the inside out.” The ADL is working with the network to promote the series and produce educational materials related to it.
“We believe that A&E’s audience is educated and sophisticated enough to understand what they are watching,” Greenblatt said. “The individuals involved in these racist groups are not heroes, they are haters.”
Many would-be viewers, however, appear to believe that a show about the KKK from the network behind reality series such as “Duck Dynasty” is a unlikely to be credible documentary. Thursday morning, “A&E’s KKK” was one of the top trends on Twitter. Most tweets criticized the project. “Since they are doing TV shows about terrorist groups like A&E’s KKK, they might as well do ‘Real Housewives of Al Qaeda'” author and filmmaker Tariq Nasheed tweeted.
But Sharenow points to the network’s long history of serious documentary programming and recent socially conscious efforts such as the concert special “Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America.”
“This is not a reality show starring the KKK,” Sharenow said. “This is a documentary series and that’s been the approach from the beginning. I think there’s been a horrible misperception about what it is and what we set out to do. This is a pure documentary that looks at a previously hidden part of the world.”
In a statement, Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson said, “After reviewing the promotions and episodes and participating in substantive conversations with A&E executives, we are pleased to see that the network is taking seriously concerns that the show — newly titled ‘Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America’ — required important additional components — such as specific in-show educational context and content and a post-show town hall as we both want to work together to ensure that it did not normalize and humanize racism and white supremacy.”
Watch the first look trailer below: