The A&E network has announced that it is pulling a reality show about the Ku Klux Klan, which was set to air next month, after executives discovered that outside producers for the series paid members of the group for their participation.
The network said that “Escaping the KKK,” a series about people who want to leave the group — and which has elicited a fierce backlash — will be shelved.
“A&E learned last night from the third-party producers who made the documentary that cash payments — which we currently understand to be nominal — were made in the field to some participants in order to facilitate access,” the network said in a statement Saturday. “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.”
The statement continued: “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.”
Paying reality subjects has become common practice in unscripted television. But the recipients of these payments distinguish this situation from nearly every other previous series. It takes on an added charge in the wake of white-supremacist groups hailing the election of President-elect Donald Trump. (Trump has disavowed the support of these groups.)
The eight-part series created a stir when it was announced earlier this week as “Generation KKK” with a Jan. 10 air date — a controversy A&E sought to quell by releasing a trailer Friday that attempted to more fully explain the show’s premise.
The series was being produced by the production company This is Just a Test and its co-founders Aengus James and Colin King Miller, who executive produced with Cynthia Childs and Paul Lima. James is a documentary filmmaker and reality-show producer who had previously made the nonfiction series “Ice Lake Rebels” and directed the doc “American Harmony,” about barbershop singing groups; he had also collaborated with Barry Levinson as a cinematographer.
James did not respond to a text or voicemail message seeking comment Saturday. A&E executive vice president and general manager Robert Sharenow and A&E spokesman Dan Silberman declined to comment for this story.
From the moment it was announced, civil rights groups and public figures slammed “Generation KKK,” saying it would normalize the hate group.
A Change.org petition was launched, and stars such as Ellen Pompeo of “Grey’s Anatomy” spoke out volubly against the A&E move on Twitter, questioning why the network gave a “platform” to hate groups.
A&E quickly sought to position the show as a documentary along the lines of its hit series on addiction, “Intervention,” hoping people would view it more as a look at the evils of hate groups than a reality-television exploitation of them. The network noted its participation with the ADL and, more recently, the civil rights group Color of Change. It also changed the title to “Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America.”
The trailer, looking to underscore the series’ ambitions, opened with the on-screen lines: “In the KKK hatred is passed down as legacy. It must stop…. This series is about a group of activists working to expose hatred and end it.” In a statement Friday, the network also said that the show’s name was changed so “no one can mistake its intent.”
“Escaping the KKK” quietly began production about 18 months ago, when the 2016 presidential election had a very different shape. In one early episode, a member of the KKK is shown to be leaving the group. In a later episode, that person then convinces a more senior member of the Klan to do the same. The series also centered on relatives of KKK members uncomfortable with the choices of their loved ones.
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