Last season, American Crime became a probing and gutting exploration of manhood (as well as race and class) as it followed the story of a teenage boy sexually assaulted by another boy at a party. We saw upper middle class families, gorgeous homes and private schools. In Season 3, the acclaimed drama from John Ridley depicts American labor issues — including immigration and modern-day indentured servitude — and portrays farmland, trailers and the quiet suburbs of the south. This comes at a time when Hollywood has been taken to task for overlooking that part of the country, but the timing wasn't to make any counterpoint to politics or pundits' analysis.
"This story would have been told irrespective of who would have been in the Oval Office," executive producer John Ridley said Tuesday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in California. "It is American Crime. We want to represent, geographically speaking, as many places as possible. It's not about trying to be oh-so current that we miss the bigger picture. We're connected. We need to stop thinking about ourselves as isolated individuals. We share connectivity. These kinds of things can happen anywhere. We hope we have an opportunity to represent all 50 states at some point."
At the heart of the drama is a father, Luis Salazar (Benito Martinez), who discovers that American laborers are living in near modern slavery after he illegally lands in the United States from Mexico to search for his missing son. Through his perspective, we meet people promised jobs and shelter but are instead forced to live in poverty, required to reimburse employers for food and basic lodging, trapping them in a cycle.
As it's been in previous seasons, American Crime's ensemble cast weaves people together who, on the surface, don't appear to be linked together through crime — and big issues of the day — to have what Ridley called a "cascade effect."
Connor Jessup, the show's celebrated "secret weapon," plays a young man estranged from his family and addicted to drugs; when he gets tangled up with the farm's heartless crew chief Isaac Castillo (Richard Cabral) in hopes of getting a job and getting clean, he becomes aware of the injustices taking place on the farm. Felicity Huffman plays Jeanette Hesby, who married into the family that owns the struggling tomato farm Hesby Farms and begins to learn the upsetting truth behind their wealth.
Regina King, who won back-to-back Emmys for her roles on the show, plays Kimara Walters, a single social worker in her 40s who wants to help people in need — and have a a baby. But when she meets Shae (Ana Mulvoy-Ten), a 17-year-old prostitute, she finds herself devoting her energy to helping Shae escape her pimp. Timothy Hutton plays Nicholas Coates, a furniture supply business owner under pressure to cut costs, and stuck in a crappy marriage with Clair (Lili Taylor). She's working to secure a visa for a Haitian woman, Gabrielle (Mickaëlle X. Bizet), to be their son's nanny but as Gabrielle soon learns, her job comes with a steep price.
Of course, all the returning actors are playing completely different characters than they were in previous seasons, a feature of the program that the talents appreciate. "It's exciting as an actor to play a character and then let it go," said King. "To not have to continue being that same person each season. As an actor, that's how we express our art — being chameleons, playing different roles. That's the beauty of American Crime. We're in good hands with John [Ridley] and [executive producer] Michael J. McDonald and the actors we're working with. They're going to bring their A-plus plus game."
American Crime Season 3 begins Sunday, March 12 at 10/9c on ABC.