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BET's American Gangster

By Sylvia Maria Gross and Alex Smith


Kansas City, MO – The documentary-style show American Gangster just ended its first season on Black Entertainment Television, and it's been the network's most successful original series ever. The show profiles notorious black criminals like Los Angeles crack dealer Ricky Ross, San Francisco jewel thieves Troy and Dino Smith and Crips co-founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams. American Gangster is narrated by Ving Rhames.

People seem to hate or love the whole concept . . . from the very first episode. Kansas City activist Alonzo Washington has called for several businesses to stop advertising on the program, because he says it glorifies violence in communities that are struggling with crime. Washington is a comic book artist, but he's better known for his campaigns to collect information about unsolved homicides, and was instrumental in solving the murder of 4-year-old Precious Doe.

Washington has targeted 4 companies: Verizon Wireless and Sprint are no longer advertising during American Gangster; a Sprint vice president told the Kansas City Star that when the company became aware of the content of the program, they stopped airing commercials on BET during that hour. A representative of JC Penney's told us they continue to run ads on BET, including on American Gangster. An Applebee's spokeswoman says they never run ads after 10pm - when American Gangster airs. One week, she says, BET aired the program at nine, and the ad ran by mistake.

For another perspective on the program, we turn to Eric Deggans, who's the television and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times, and he also monitors coverage of African American issues for the National Association of Black Journalists. Deggans has seen the first episode about Tookie Williams. He says he wouldn't call American Gangster a news program, it's a production of BET's entertainment division.

BET is considering producing a second season of American Gangster later this year.

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