After former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson was cast on "Law and Order: SVU," controversy ensued.
Casting a convicted rapist on a series that directly deals with sexual assault was always going to raise eyebrows -- and in this case, it resulted in a Change.org petition demanding that NBC reconsider its choice of guest star, started by Marcie Kaveney, a rape survivor and longtime "SVU" fan. "NCIS" actress and fellow abuse survivor Pauley Perrette also signed the petition, which currently has almost 7,000 supporters.
“As soon as I saw it [in a news report], I just saw red ... A lot of survivors consider ‘SVU’ to be Their Show, because it’s about victims, about helping victims and getting justice for victims,” Kaveney told the Washington Post's TV Column. “We’ve taken to the show and consider it ours.”
Kaveney reportedly also questioned the choice of storyline for Tyson's character -- that of a death row inmate who was himself the victim of childhood abuse -- which she feels could be seen as a way of excusing Tyson's own past. In an interview with The Wrap, she observed, "It's kind of being a rape apologist, saying 'Maybe he's had this violent childhood and that's why he's become this violent person.'"
In a new interview with TV Guide, Tyson reacted to the controversy. "I'm sorry that she has a difference of opinion, but she's entitled to it," he said of Kaveney. "I'm sorry that she's not happy. [But] I didn't rape nobody or do anything like that, and this lady wasn't there to know if I did or not. I don't trip on that stuff. I'm not trying to get rich and famous; I'm just trying to feed my family. Why should they care? Since I'm clean and sober five years, I haven't broken any laws or did any crimes. I'm just trying to live my life."
The TV Guide interview notes that all of Tyson's scenes take place in a jail cell or a courtroom, but the athlete insisted that he wasn't drawing parallels between his experiences and his character's. "I just got the script and did the best I could," he said. "I have no emotional connection to the role. As a human being I can relate to it, but it has nothing to do with me."
Tyson also shared scenes with series star Mariska Hargitay, who created the Joyful Heart Foundation to support survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse in 2002. Tyson described the actress as "very quiet" during his time on set. "You can tell she's the boss ... I didn't go there looking for people to kiss on me and tell me how great I am," he told TV Guide. "That's my downfall. I try to stay as far away from that as possible. I was there to do a service."
While Hargitay has not commented publicly on the casting, Joyful Heart's CEO did release a statement regarding Tyson's involvement in the show:
... While we are proud of our work with the show, it is not a part of any formal relationship. While we have been blessed to work collaboratively on many occasions, final production decisions are outside of the role of Joyful Heart’s relationship to the show. We were not aware of this casting choice and we have formally expressed our concerns to the executives and producers at SVU.
At Joyful Heart, we strive to keep survivors at the center of all we do, and have abiding compassion for those who have suffered as a result of violence and abuse. We are deeply sorry if this choice on the part of SVU has, in any way, caused any hurt.
Showrunner Warren Leight weighed in on the controversy via Twitter. See all of Leight's tweets below:
Do you think casting Tyson was the right choice for "SVU"? Share your thoughts below.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated that Leight's tweets had been deleted.
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