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Television

TCA 2018: Investigation Discovery’s timely ‘Sugar Town’ examines a racial divide

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Victor White III, whose death is the subject of “Sugar Town,” a new documentary coming to ID in August.
(ID / Discovery)

In its first presentation at the Television Critics Assn. summer tour since acquiring Scripps Networks in the spring, Discovery Communications touted its “fact-based programming” delivered on a suite of networks such as HGTV, TLC and Animal Planet that specialize in unscripted shows.

Also in that group is the true crime-tilted Investigation Discovery (ID), which premieres the feature-length documentary “Sugar Town” on Aug. 6. Set in New Iberia, La., the show looks at the tension that arose in the racially divided town after the shooting death of 22-year-old Victor White III while in police custody.

In a story that has been repeated in various forms with encounters between unarmed black men and the police, White was stopped by officers in 2014 on suspicion of being involved in a fight at a convenience store, and he was arrested for possessing a small bag of marijuana. Law enforcement says White shot himself in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind his back in a patrol car.

Directed by Shan Nicholson (“Rubble Kings”), “Sugar Town” was introduced by network head Henry Schleiff with the hopes of inspiring “discussion and action.” He acknowledged it stands as something of a departure for ID, which typically tilts toward the efforts of law enforcement to solve a crime. In “Sugar Town,” those efforts go under examination.

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“What is the quote, ‘Go without hate but not without rage?’ ” Scheliff asked the TCA audience of journalists. “This is the kind of story that needs coverage.”

“In Louisiana we have a two-tiered justice system,” said journalist Tony Brown, who was on the panel and appears in “Sugar Town.” “As a result, we have lawmen that have become lawless, and it’s problematic not just for Louisiana but for America…. It’s a tragedy that must be addressed, and it’s a story that must be told.”

White’s father, the Rev. Victor White, appears in the documentary and was present for the panel, and he described some of the irregularities he encountered in New Iberia when he asked about the circumstances of his son’s death and to see his son’s body. Brown later outlined his conviction that there was a cover-up by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office and that White was beaten over the three hours he was in custody before his death.

When asked about the issues surrounding White’s case existing alongside the region’s well-documented history of diversity in food and music, Brown replied, “You’re talking about New Orleans,” and he drew a contrast between the way of life in Louisiana’s cities and the state’s harsher rural reality.

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Covering a number of issues that have been in recent headlines, the panel also touched on the racial inequities in drug laws and mass incarceration. The complex and undeniably pressing issues are a long way from the network’s upcoming installment of “American Murder Mystery,” which will look further at the Pamela Smart story (a tabloid-friendly story depicted in 1995’s “To Die For” starring Nicole Kidman), but still worthy of investigating.

chris.barton@latimes.com

Follow me over here @chrisbarton.


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