The Law & Order television empire is getting a Law & Order spinoff—and as a fan, I should be excited, but instead, the new show has me feeling conflicted.
On September 4, NBC announced that Dick Wolf and former SVU showrunner Warren Leight will team up to produce the new series, Law & Order: Hate Crimes—which will be based on New York’s *actual* Hate Crimes Task Force. As it does in real life, the team will investigate crimes motivated by discrimination and will work under the Special Victims Unit in the spinoff—meaning that guest appearances by Olivia Benson are inevitable.
In the seventh (!) Law & Order installment, Wolf and Leight aim to shed light on the work real detectives are doing to investigate hate crimes in New York, and start a conversation about these offences. “As with all of my crime shows, I want 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,” Wolf’s statement reads. “Twenty years ago when SVU began, very few people felt comfortable coming forward and reporting these crimes, 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.”
There is the possibility that Hate Crimes—like SVU—can do some good
Wolf says he wants Law and Order: Hate Crimes to raise awareness and start conversations “just like SVU did”—and some research shows that people who watch SVU are better informed about consent and less likely to buy into rape myths.
As well, over the course of the show’s nearly two-decades-long run, SVU lead Mariska Hargitay has become an increasingly influential advocate for ending rape kit testing backlogs, and recently co-produced and appeared in a 2018 documentary called I Am Evidence, which explores the rape kit backlog in Detroit, Los Angeles and Cleveland.
But this will only happen if the right people are telling these stories
While Hargitay’s work on bringing attention to backlogs is undeniably excellent, SVU has also (rightfully) received criticism for exploiting and commodifying the trauma of sexual assault survivors. Hate Crimes will undoubtedly experience the same—unless, as Misha Fletcher, a queer writer and editor, points out on Twitter, “every single writer and director [is] someone who’s actually experienced the crime in question.”
My feeling at this point is fine, Law and Order SVU, Hate Crimes–whatever. But every single writer and director should be someone who's actually experienced the crime in question instead of being an edgy white dude commodifying the experiences of marginalized people for funsies.
— 🏳️🌈misha fletcher (@mishafletch) September 5, 2018
At a time when we’re increasingly aware of who should (and shouldn’t) share/write/portray certain perspectives, Fletcher’s point is a salient one. As is the case with SVU, the experiences of survivors will be at the heart of Hate Crimes—and to paraphrase the franchise’s catchphrase, these truly are their stories to tell.