Midway through his first presidential term, under the pretense of emergency, Bill Clinton outlined his plan to dampen a nationwide increase in violent crime. To restore America to … whatever it was supposed to be restored to, we, as a nation, needed a pound of cure: "longer sentences, more prisons, and more police."
That clip, from the House floor, is spliced into the first trailer for Crown Heights, a film based on a true story. The Amazon Studios film premieres in theaters on August 25. The clip is wedged between scenes of unlivable prison conditions, indifferent courthouses, and the kind of grieving otherwise reserved for the dead or dying. The movie tells the story of Collin Warner — played by Lakeith Stanfield with dreads and a Trinidadian accent — a Brooklyn man wrongly convicted of murder in 1982, 12 years before passage of the legislation that Clinton advocated for, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
The suspense doesn’t lie in how the story wraps up; Warner’s conviction was overturned in 2001 with the help of his friend Carl King (played by former NFL cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha). The more compelling question is whether writer-director Matt Ruskin can illustrate the immense human cost of discriminatory practices thoughtlessly signed into law. (From just a trailer, I can’t say for sure whether Ruskin did or didn’t, but the film did win the Sundance Audience Award.) The name of the legislation changes — before the 1994 crime bill there were Reagan’s anti-drug laws, and before that there was Lyndon B. Johnson’s Safe Streets Act. But the people the legislation disproportionately affects tend to look the same, and unfortunately it bears repeating that they are people, with loved ones and dreams and lives they could live if they were allowed to.
In one scene Warner sits across from King and asks him why he has wasted his life on Warner. "It’s not just about you. It’s bigger than that," King says. It still is.