Taking the Right Path Toward Salvation

A Review of Two Inspirational Films

By Jon Minners

Let the Links Guide You:   A Bonus Commentary     Conviction Review      Redemption Review     Final Thoughts

A Special Minners Commentary Corner

Listen carefully to what I have to say and know that none of it reflects the views and opinions of G-Pop or its staff.  In fact, a lot of what I have to say will anger my so-called peers, but as a white man who listens carefully to ignorant comments coming from the older generation that happens to have raised me and countless others like me, white people blame people of color for crime.  They want to see black people fail.

They don’t give chances.  They do not show understanding.  They don’t believe the stories of how the government set people of color up to fail through drugs and other actions that resulted in the Bronx is burning mentality, the violence in Los Angeles and countless other actions.  They don’t think anything is wrong in sending Martha Stewart to a country club cupcake baking prison while they send Lil Kim to a hardcore prison for what was technically the same crime; perjury.  They freak out when you tell them you are going to go to a Fordham Road train station; an area filled with non-white residents, and would rather you found a safer route on a Metro North in Manhattan.  They talk about murder statistics and the numbers of blacks, Latinos and other non-whites in the same sentence. 

When have you heard about white people facing the three strikes rule in Los Angeles?  Would Robert De Niro dish out money to defend a black man wanted in the murder of a police officer, as he did for his former white co-star?  Look at the prison system; how many black men are in prison for the same crimes I watched my white peers commit in terms of drugs when I was young.  I have actually seen cops take bags of weeds off white kids and tell them sternly, “don’t let me see you do this again,” for the third time they were caught; even punishing one guy by making him walk home and not get in the car with me and my friend, but then arrest an Hispanic friend caught smoking weed for the first time.  Or the time when I had a water gun and the cop asked me what the bulge out of my pocket was and simply believed me when I told him, but in the same instance patted down my Hispanic friend and then asked him why he was in the area, when he actually lived in the house we were chilling outside of and it was the white kids who lived in other parts of the community. 

    It’s the same reason why affordable housing is applauded in areas where “minorities” live, but are often times fought in areas with upper middle class white people.  It’s the same reason why it is so hard to send John Gotti, Jr. to jail and how he was allowed to take a day off from house arrest to enjoy his Valentine’s Day.  I wonder if he went out with Lil Kim; oh wait, she was still locked up.  See, non-white men and women are being set up to fail, but you do not have to be the victim.  Two men have fought the power and have made change; allowed for younger black men and women to make change and have showed people that there is a better way to live than the life that will only lead to prison.  Those success stories have been depicted in two great, if not flawed films I watched and wanted to pass along to my readers. 

The Review of the Film Conviction

Conviction is the true story of Carl Upchurch, as played by Omar Epps, in a film directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan and featured on Showtime in 2002.  Upchurch was a Philadelphia ghetto native who goes in and out of the system from his teenage years on.  Having no real parents as role models, including his father, briefly played by Charles S. Dutton in a small, but important role that allows you to see he has no good examples to follow.  Epps, who is my favorite actor from such films as Love & Basketball, Higher Learning and The Wood, plays the role to perfection; first as an angry man who doesn’t want to believe he has the ability to change his lot in life; to a compassionate leader that realizes he has the power to not just change his life, but that of millions of others. 

A smart kid, Upchurch passes the time away in jail reading the works of William Shakespeare, whose words he later imparts on other inmates.  Going back to his home without a real plan, Upchurch ends up back in jail where he continues his slow move toward redemption by meeting up with a caring teacher played by Dana Delany, who shows him there is a lot he doesn’t know despite his vast intelligence.  Upchurch’s thirst for knowledge lands him in another kind of institution; college, where he leads a battle to stop the school’s ties with companies that support apartheid.  When others believe a black ex-con cannot change his ways, Upchurch ends up in jail on a technicality, where he must fight to get his message across in a life threatening situation. 

Upchurch moves on, using religion and a strong belief that there is a better path for black youth to follow if they only knew there was a better life out there.  Upchurch goes on a solo mission to bring peace and organize the very first national gang summit, helping to bring down the number of incidents involving urban violence every year since the conference was held. 

    His tale is a very inspirational story that goes beyond the lines of race and religion, as Upchurch connects with several white characters and as a Christian with men of the Nation of Islam.  His belief that violence just isn’t worth it; that anyone can be brought up from the gutter with the right kind of knowledge, as long as that knowledge is made available to them and passed along, is one that people should take note of; and want to instill in their children, in their friends, in themselves.  This movie contains a strong message that this generation of Americans; all Americans, need to hear.

The Review of the Film Redemption

Redemption, directed by Vondie Curtis Hall, seen on the FX Network and starring Jamie Foxx, as Stan “Tookie” Williams, one of the founders of The Crips, is another gripping tale about exactly what the title of the film implies.  Foxx, who really demonstrated some acting chops in this film that was the precursor to his Academy Award winning performance as Ray Charles in Ray, does an excellent job of demonstrating what it’s like having it all; money, women and respect, only to end up in jail and realize you never had anything at all. 

Seeing that he only led by fear and not respect; seeing that his actions have led to the death and destruction of black youth; Williams seeks redemption in the form of having his story told be a journalist, expertly played by Lynn Whitfield, who sees her own son turning toward violence.  Williams eventually takes matters into his own hand by writing a series of children’s books that earned him a Nobel Prize.  Writing children’s books is a stark contrast to the Tookie you see at the beginning of the movie. 

Through the film, you see a complete change in the hardened criminal on death row for murder in a crime he refuses to admit he had any part in, to a man who puts as much emphasis in helping people as he did in hurting them.  Rather than continue the violence in prison, as he did when he first was brought to jail, Williams chooses to seek peace among his inmates with the same determination in his eyes as he had when he sought power.  Letting his life go to God, Williams does all he can to move kids away from violence, not just in America, but in Africa, in all parts of the globe, where gangs are popping up; either mimicking America’s urban culture or out of some other need. 

Foxx does a great job of depicting a man who deserved to rot in jail for the rest of his life, because of the atrocities he caused, but deserved a second chance away from the death penalty, because he did redeem himself and could do more to get people away from gangs alive then he could dead, which happened thanks to the poster child for mainstream violence; Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Where was the Terminator’s book to encourage children not to emulate his films?  Exactly.  Redemption gave us a glimpse into the mind of a man who proved even the most hardened criminals can find peace through God and rehabilitation.

Final Thoughts

While neither film could ever be as good as such films like The Hurricane, which was about a man wrongfully sent to prison because of the color of his skin or Malcolm X, which was an even more emotional look into the live of a civil rights activist, both films are exactly what the youth need to see today.  Yes, things happen a little quickly in these films, as the men find redemption a little too quickly; less so in conviction.  A real hardened, more extensive look at the violent world these men lived in would have made their transformation more poignant, but still, both movies, at near 90 minutes each, are an excellent start to get young people to begin seeing the error of their ways and want to learn more. 

Through libraries, the Internet and other films out there, a good start is all the youth need to accomplish great things and leave the violent past behind.  It you really want to piss off the people that want to see you fail; don’t prove them right; prove them wrong.  Real power doesn’t come from a gun; or having juice in a neighborhood.  Real power comes from affecting change without violence and through peace.  Respect doesn’t come from fear.  They are two different things.  Knowledge is power.  Peace.

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