The Hurricane

THE HURRICANE RECEIVES THE FIRST POLITICAL FILM SOCIETY NOMINATION FOR 2000
Thanks to two Northwestern University professors, a substantial number of men have been released from death row in Illinois because they were wrongfully convicted. In The Hurricane, director Norman Jewison brings to the screen the book Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Untold Story of the Freeing of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (1991), which is based on a true story about a Black boxer who was given a life sentence for a triple murder that he did not commit. Hurricane (played by Denzil Washington) is the former world’s welterweight champion boxer who was deliberately framed for the murder of three white men on June 17, 1966. When the film begins, Hurricane is at the apex of his boxing career in 1963. Next, we find him in prison, the first ninety days of which are in the hole because he protests that wearing prison clothes would be an admission of guilt. We next view a reenactment of the crime scene as well as a police officer (played by Dan Hedaya) tampering with evidence to frame Hurricane. As the biography unfolds, we learn that the same police officer arranged to send him to reform school at the age of 11 for a knifing in self-defense; after he escapes and joins the army, the same police officer sends him back to prison when he returned from military service to serve the remaining years of his juvenile detention, though as an adult. After his murder conviction, we view how Hurricane refuses to conform to prison rules, including sleeping during the day, typewriting his biography at night, and eating canned rather than prison food. After a retrial and even an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court because his conviction was based on trumped-up evidence, both unsuccessful, Hurricane then remains resigned to a life in prison. Rather than a simple biography, however, the film focuses on a teenage boy from Brooklyn named Lesra “Lazarus” Martin (played by Vicellous Reon Shannon), who was adopted by three adults in Canada because they were so impressed with his spirit that they volunteered to teach him how to read so that he could achieve his ambition of going to college. At an auction of discarded books from the Toronto Public Library, Lesra buys his first book for 25 cents—Hurricane’s autobiography The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472 (1974). Moved by the book, Lesra writes and then visits Hurricane and decides to do whatever he can to free him, and soon he convinces his adopted family to join in the quest. They then move to Paterson, New Jersey, review the mountain of evidence, reinterview witnesses, and Hurricane’s lawyers present their case of gross racist prosecutorial misconduct to a federal judge (played by Rod Steiger), who in turn frees Rubin on November 8, 1985. Titles at the end indicate that Hurricane, Lesra, and the three Canadians then went back to Canada (to director Norman Jewison’s home town of Toronto). Lesra indeed finished college and is now an attorney in Vancouver, and Hurricane founded an organization to investigate those who are wrongfully convicted. However, no person has ever been charged for the murders for which Hurricane was wrongfully convicted. As a remarkable story about justice denied and then redeemed almost miraculously, the Political Film Society has nominated The Hurricane for three awards for the year 2000—as an exposé and as a film raising consciousness of the need for greater democracy and for improved human rights. MH