Escaping the KKK has been canceled by A&E, according to a report from Variety.
“A&E said it would no longer move forward with Escaping the KKK, a controversial documentary series that purported to examine the plight of people seeking to extricate themselves from the hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan, citing a recent discovery that producers involved with the show had made financial payments to some of the subjects involved with the program,” Brian Steinberg writes in the Variety article. “The network said it had learned from producers Friday night that ‘cash payments — which we currently understand to be nominal — were made in the field to some participants in order to facilitate access,’ in a prepared statement released just hours before the start of Christmas Eve.”
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) December 25, 2016
The docuseries sparked controversy as soon as A&E announced plans to broadcast it. Many criticized the network on the grounds that the show would potentially normalize the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups by giving them a legitimate public platform.
A&E responded by changing the name of the program from Generation KKK to Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America earlier this week, Melanie McFarland, Salon‘s TV critic, reported.
McFarland noted that A&E took bigger steps than simply changing the title of the series.
“In addition to changing its title, A&E has also partnered with African American civil rights organization Color of Change, building on its previous partnership with the nation’s largest Jewish civil rights organization, the Anti-Defamation League. As part of this new partnership, Escaping the KKK will now feature in-show content between segments, which will be provided by civil rights leaders, to grant context to the images within the each episode. A&E is also producing a town hall discussion ‘to facilitate deeper dialogue about ending hate in America,’ according to the press release.”
McFarland also suggested that another reason for the name change was to try to convince potential viewers that Escaping the KKK would be a “serious documentary series” with the same “gravitas” that the network put into its recent Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath documentary series.
— Vibe Magazine (@VibeMagazine) December 24, 2016
It appears that the cash payments A&E producers paid were in direct violation of the agreements A&E made with Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League.
“While we stand behind the intent of the series and the seriousness of the content, these payments are a direct violation of A&E’s policies and practices for a documentary,” Variety quotes the statement from A&E. “We had previously provided assurances to the public and to our core partners – including the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change – that no payment was made to hate group members, and we believed that to be the case at the time. We have now decided not to move forward with airing this project.”
Before it was canceled, Escaping the KKK had been scheduled to premiere on January 10, Tuesday, at 10 p.m.
As much blowback as news of the show caused, there is a chance that A&E was simply looking for a way to cut their losses and forget about the whole public relations disaster this episode has caused.
Documentary series have become increasingly popular in the past couple of years, with Netflix’s Making a Murderer perhaps being one of the most successful in the genre.
The fact that A&E canceled Escaping the KKK will undoubtedly be hailed as a victory among liberal activists who saw it as yet another sign of the “alt-right’s” rise to prominence in the United States. There were concerns that if the show were at all successful, it could inspire a Ku Klux Klan resurgence, just as D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation did a century ago.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]