"SVU" merges Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin cases in rape, shooting story line

Really? A Southern chef accuses a black teen of attempting rape and shoots him on NBC's long-running drama

By Daniel D'Addario

Published August 22, 2013 3:54PM (EDT)

Paula Dean            (AP/Peter Kramer)
Paula Dean (AP/Peter Kramer)

The "Law & Order" franchise has a long history of taking on newsy subjects -- from Rihanna's relationship with Chris Brown to the Broadway show "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

But in its next season, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" will be combining the summer's two most racially charged stories -- in a single episode. Per Entertainment Weekly, executive producer Warren Leight acknowledges the debt the coming race-themed episode owes to the stories of celebrity chef Paula Deen's racist language and poor treatment of black employees and the killing of Trayvon Martin:

“[Jeffrey] Tambor is a defense attorney representing a very high-profile celebrity woman chef who thought she was being pursued by a rapist and turned around it was a teenager. And she shot him,” said Leight in an interview with EW. “There’s a lot of stop and frisk elements to that as well.” [...]

They won’t be shying away from the big questions either, according to Leight. “Is racial profiling justifiable? Can self-defense involve racial profiling? We’re diving right into that,” he said. “Can that happen in New York? Absolutely.”

Late-era "Law & Order" has tended to pull from more frivolous or entertainment-centric news stories; unsavory and enraging though it is, Paula Deen's hateful speech is actually the perfect "Law & Order" subject. But the obvious debt to an incident that involves a dead teenager, and saddling a figure based on that teenager with allegations of potential rape, may make some viewers uncomfortable. As Leight acknowledged to Entertainment Weekly, "It was really interesting to see people read that script and have different interpretations about who did what and whether or not they deserved prison for it. It was fascinating."

Daniel D'Addario

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George Zimmerman Law And Order Paula Deen Svu Trayvon Marting