“Law & Order: SVU” returns tonight with an all new episode entitled “Criminal Hatred.” The official synopsis for the show reads "The SVU detectives go undercover to catch a predator who preys on victims with secret lives. But when the case gets to the courtroom, ADA Barba struggles against an unpredictable Defense Attorney in a showdown that stretches the boundaries of the law."
Oscar nominee Nia Vardalos guest stars as Barba’s quirky, yet sly, courtroom nemesis.
While fans of the show are certainly happy to see a new installment of the drama after three long weeks of hiatus, the buzz about this hour still pales in comparison to the controversy surrounding the casting of Mike Tyson in an upcoming episode.
In 1992, Tyson was convicted of rape and served three years in prison.
On January 16th, I wrote this article about the issue, presenting comments that have been posted on social media outlets both for and against Tyson’s appearance on the show.
Since that time, a petition on the site change.org protesting Tyson's inclusion on the show has garnered over 6,000 signatures. The petition was created by Marcie Kaveney, who recently appeared on CNN’s Showbiz Tonight to talk about her reasons for objecting to the casting of Tyson. During the interview. Kaveney, who identifies herself as a fan of the show, as well as a survivor and advocate, says that she feels that to have a convicted rapist who has not been apologetic on the show is a slap in the face.
In response to the criticism, showrunner Warren Leight (@warrenleightTV) took to Twitter himself, posting a series of Tweets to explain the intent behind the casting.
In a series of seven tweets posted by Leight, he says, "We understand the casting of Mike Tyson seems inappropriate to some 'SVU' fans. While in no way excusing his past actions, it's worth noting MT was convicted over twenty years ago, and served his time. In recent years he has found sobriety, and started a foundation to meet the comprehensive needs of children from broken homes. The episode itself deals with many issues, including the ongoing effects of childhood abuse, the possibility of rehabilitation and the potential for disastrous results when individuals and/or the justice system pre-judge or fail to contextualize. Because of SVU's subject matter, all of us have a profound sense of our responsibility. Our intent, as always, is to provoke discussion and awareness. We ask you to keep an open mind. Thanks."
Show lead Mariska Hargitay, who founded the Joyful Heart Foundation*, a group that helps victims of sexual assault, has not expressed her personal feelings about the situation, but Maile Zambuto, CEO of the foundation, released a statement, which in part reads, “We acknowledge and recognize that this casting decision may be confusing, triggering and perhaps even painful for some people–especially those who are survivors of violence and abuse. For more than a decade, 'SVU' has been instrumental in shining a much-needed light on the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. In fact, Joyful Heart would not exist if not for the show and the path it created for our founder to awaken to the realities of sexual violence and forge a deep connection to survivors.In recent years, the Foundation has been fortunate to partner with 'SVU' to raise awareness around key issues including the backlog of untested rape kits, the affects of sexual abuse on young men and boys, and other topics that are all too often shrouded in darkness. Our partnership is based on our intention to shine a light on these issues to help increase awareness and understanding, lessen shame and stigma for survivors and, ultimately, change our collective response to violence and abuse. And while we are proud of our work with the show, it is not a part of any formal relationship. While we have been blessed to work collaboratively on many occasions, final production decisions are outside of the role of Joyful Heart’s relationship to the show. We were not aware of this casting choice and we have formally expressed our concerns to the executives and producers at 'SVU.”
For the full statement, please visit the Joyful Heart site here.
Tyson himself has spoken about the controversy saying, via an interview with TVGuide.com, among other things, “I didn't rape nobody or do anything like that, and this lady (Marcie Kaveney) wasn't there to know if I did or not. I don't trip on that stuff. I'm not trying to get rich and famous; I'm just trying to feed my family. Why should they care? Since I'm clean and sober five years, I haven't broken any laws or did any crimes. I'm just trying to live my life."
On Tuesday, the ladies of "The View" weighed in with their thoughts on the matter in their "Hot Topics" segment. Expressing general agreement that they watch the show and can understand why some viewers might find the subject matter uncomfortable, they went on to say that singling out Tyson's background over every other actor who has appeared on the show doesn't seem fair. The full discussion on "The View" can be seen here.
With another week to go before the episode, entitled "Monster's Legacy," airs on February 6th, there is sure to be more disccusion about this topic.
Repeating the sentiment that I expressed in my last article about this, I will again say the outcome of this episode, and the accompanying controversy, is sure to offer many unforeseen revelations; hopefully, the kind that lead to further discussion of not just the business of television, but more importantly, the issues that influence the need for this type of storytelling, where the word 'victim' has so many different types and meanings.
For now, viewers can take a timeout from picking a side and simply enjoy tonight's all new episode of the show. Which, as with all other episodes of "SVU," is sure to provoke questions, attempt to provide reasonable answers concerning a situation that is most likely unreasonable, and present a solution that may inspire either discussion or action, or hopefully, both. These are the consistent elements that continue to make "SVU" worth watching and discussing.
"Law & Order: SVU" airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.
* In the interest of full disclosure, I have in the past offered my support to the Joyful Heart Foundation both monetarily and through my active participation in various events benefitting the organization. I will continue to do so in the future and want to be clear that my involvement with the foundation has in no way influenced my posts about "SVU" or any other show that I cover.
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