Andre Benjamin draws on his life in ‘American Crime’

Rick Bentley
Fresno Bee

Andre Benjamin has done some acting over the years, but the rapper and songwriter is better known as being part of the hip-hop duo Outkast. His limited acting work didn’t stop writer and director John Ridley from casting Benjamin in his much-heralded ABC anthology drama, “American Crime.”

It’s a big acting challenge for anyone, as the second season deals with the attack on a high school student and its aftermath. It’s a plot line that focuses on race and parenting.

Benjamin and Regina King play the parents of one of the young men connected to the incident. Benjamin found it easy to slip into the role as the father of a teenager because he has a son the same age as his TV offspring.

Other inspiration for playing the role came from his own life. When he was growing up, manhood was taken somewhat for granted. It’s different now.

“I think the world is opening up a little bit more. It’s more than just, hey, talk tough and play baseball, play football. And I think with these shows, it gives attention to the subject,” Benjamin says. “I think that as a black family, a family that’s well-to-do, you have double challenges because you’re black and you’re privileged, but at the same time, they put you in a place where you’re a target because some people may feel like you may not deserve it.

“So I take my kid to private school now. I may be looked at a little bit different because they may feel like I may not have earned it, you know, in that way,” he says. “So taking on this role, I can say that it hit home for me.”

As for the casting of Benjamin, Ridley says he was just repaying the faith the singer had in him. Benjamin was one of Ridley’s supporters when he was being told the short-run drama series would never work.

The concern was that the intense style of storytelling in which a story only runs one season would not be accepted by fans of more traditional TV. The view changed when the first season was strong enough to get a second season order from ABC.

“Andre is a phenomenal friend. I would not be here, and this is not hyperbole, I would not be sitting here, right here, right now, were it not for Andre and the partnership that we formed on that film when other people said you cannot do this,” Ridley says. “He chose to do it, and that’s an individual who is afforded a space in his life to do whatever he wants.

“He wanted to work, not with me, but in the service of a story that he thought was worth telling.”

‘American Crime’

10 p.m. Wednesdays

ABC (Channel 7)