Just one week after A&E announced a documentary series about the Ku Klux Klan, the network canceled the show before airing a single episode following revelations that producers had paid members for access to the KKK.
The doc, formerly titled Generation KKK, has been through a whirlwind of changes in the past week.
First, there was the outcry that the network was normalizing white supremacy by supposedly empathizing with the KKK’s bigotry and racism—an unpalatable proposition to many given the racist rhetoric surrounding the election of Donald Trump. (The network said that the series had been in development for a year-and-a-half and its release after the election was unfortunate coincidence.)
A&E responded, specifically to Grey’s Anatomy actress Ellen Pompeo’s call for a boycott, that the series would “expose and combat racism and hatred in all forms” and attempt to stop the KKK’s hateful legacy from being passed on to further generations.
Then there was the name change: From Generation KKK to Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series About Exposing Hate In America. A&E’s executive vice president, Rob Sharenow, forcefully defended the series, telling Indiewire: “This is not a reality show starring the Ku Klux Klan.”
Now, the docuseries has been abruptly canceled after A&E discovered that third-party producers had paid some of the doc’s participants cash for access.
“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 network said in a statement.
The network did not disclose how much the payments to participants were for, but said they were “nominal.” The series was set to premiere on A&E in January.
The network had partnered with the civil rights organization Color of Change, who expressed concern about the intent of the series, to help develop the doc’s eight segments with additional context and background, as well as put together a post-show town hall, according to the Color of Change director Rashad Robinson.
A&E was also partnering with the Anti-Defamation League throughout the series’ production to help extract KKK family members (most of them mothers and children) who no longer wanted to be involved with the hate group.
Previously, A&E had made promises to both organizations that no money was paid in exchange for interviews or access to the KKK.
“With this new information, canceling the show is the only acceptable decision,” Robinson said in a statement.
He continued, “On the eve of the inauguration of a president whose campaign was fueled by white supremacists, some of whom will work in his Administration, A&E has work to do to rebuild the damage caused, beyond town halls and PSAs. This is an opportunity to increase the diversity of creative talent, invest more deeply in narrative, content and stories that uplift communities that are often in the cross hairs of racist systems and structures, and center communities more broadly that are so often misrepresented and underrepresented by mainstream media.”