Rubin Carter: The Movie

By Steel, Lewis M. | The Nation, January 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

Rubin Carter: The Movie


Steel, Lewis M., The Nation


While I sat in the theater watching the movie The Hurricane, I felt I was observing a cinematic crime. Along with Myron Beldock and Leon Friedman, I had spent years fighting to free Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the middleweight boxing contender, and his co-defendant, John Artis, after their conviction for a 1966 triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey.

The movie makes no bones about Rubin's and John's innocence. Denzel Washington is splendid in his portrayal of Rubin's uncompromising resistance to the degradation of prison life, his indefatigable ability to publicize his cause and become a major force in his own defense. Beyond that, however, The Hurricane buries the truth in a false Hollywood concoction that blames Rubin's wrongful conviction on one rogue cop who is eventually undone by a group of outside heroes.

In reality, Rubin and John were framed by a corrupt police force assisted by unethical prosecutors, who used racial prejudice to prevent their case from unraveling. What unfolds on the screen does not even attempt to reveal the contours of how the police authorities manufactured their case and how the state court trial judge gave the prosecutor free rein to pander to the bias of the jury. The judge did this by allowing the prosecutor to accuse Rubin and John of committing the murders to avenge a prior killing, in Paterson, of a black man by a white man, even though there was no evidence, beyond Rubin and John's race, to support this theory. By omitting the racist underpinning of the prosecution's case, Hollywood's movie-makers saved white audiences from having to confront their own racial feelings and from understanding how prejudice can overcome reason.

Instead, the film relates the heartwarming story of how a group of white Canadians who lived in Toronto and were raising an African- American boy from Brooklyn learned of Rubin's plight from his book, The Sixteenth Round, and came to his rescue. As the film tells it, the Canadians took over the case and uncovered virtually all the evidence that helped to free Rubin. The Canadians and the African-American boy did play an important role in giving Carter psychological support during the darkest hours of his twenty-year imprisonment. But the movie's account of how the Canadians built Carter's legal case simply did not occur. For example, the film shows them finding, in a former county investigator's garbage, a file that exposed how the police concocted a false getaway-car identification. The Canadians had nothing to do with obtaining this file. The county investigator himself admitted he had it, and it was produced only after years of struggling against the prosecutor's determination to block us from obtaining it. …

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