Flick on the Ropes
The Hurricane, the film based on former boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter's struggle to overturn his conviction for a triple murder he didn't commit, has taken another hit.This time it's a lawsuit claiming that crucial parts of Carter's story were "deliberately fabricated" to pump up its dramatization of the evils of racism and maximize profits at the box office.It's another bruised eye for the film, which has been wracked by controversy and last month was snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the upcoming Oscars. (Only Denzel Washington was nominated for a best-actor prize.)In the U.S., The Hurricane has taken shots for embellishing parts of Carter's life -- in particular, the character of the racist cop who seems to dog Carter throughout his life.Fixed FightHowever, the most recent suit, filed in Pennsylvania district court last month by former middleweight boxing champion Carmine Tilelli, aka Joey Giardello, goes further.It claims the film's producers "deliberately fabricated" scenes in the movie dealing with Carter's failed bid for the title against Giardello in 1964.The suit claims the scenes depicted were made up in order to fit the overall theme of the movie, namely that Carter's life was destroyed by racial prejudice.Giardello's lawyer claims the scenes in question make his client out to be "a hapless fighter who benefits from a racially motivated or fixed scoring system ... an individual who would accept ill-gotten fruits of racism ... (and) that Giardello was part of a racist conspiracy to harm Carter."Says the Philadelphia-based lawyer, George Bochetto: "They completely altered who he was, what he was about and what his legacy is. They trashed a lifetime's worth of work."The suit also takes issue with the where-are-they-now epilogue at the end of The Hurricane.In one scene, Carter is shown receiving an honourary middleweight championship belt from the World Boxing Council (WBC) in 1993, which the suit claims has the effect of "implying that even the sanctioning body (for boxing) now admits Carter was robbed of the title and that the championship, like his new- found freedom, rightly belonged to Carter."Symbolic TributeBut what The Hurricane fails to convey, the suit says, is the fact that the WBC was not the sanctioning body for the 64 fight.And the symbolic championship belt was awarded to Carter "as a tribute and an apology for his false imprisonment ... and had nothing to do with the decision in the Giardello-Carter fight."In fact, this lawsuit claims, Giardello attended the ceremony where Carter received the belt.Carter himself has recently offered publicly that he thinks Giardello won the fight fair and square.Carter is presently on a speaking tour and is unavailable for comment, but his assistant at the office of the Association in the Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, where he is executive director, says, "As far as Rubin is concerned, Mr. Giardello won the fight."The film, though, gives a very different impression of what happened at the Philadelphia Convention Hall that night in December 64.In the film, Giardello is shown being pummelled by Carter's right-hands and left hooks and bleeding from the pulverizing onslaught.When the decision goes to Giardello, the crowd protests and the voice of an announcer declares it a travesty.None of that ever happened, Giardello's suit says. According to the suit, "Contemporaneous news reports and expert analysis generally agreed Giardello had won the fight, and that Carter had not done enough to take the championship away."The three judges who scored the fight all had Giardello winning convincingly, the claim says.Then the kicker. Giardello's suit claims The Hurricane's makers "acted with malice toward the rights and reputation of Giardello solely in an effort to enhance the emotional impact of The Hurricane and to inexcusably symbolize at Giardello's expense the harshness of the injustices visited upon Carter by the New Jersey criminal justice system."All of this, the suit claims, was "designed to increase profits."Giardello is asking for no less than $150,000 in damages, and he wants video copies of The Hurricane, when released, to include clips of the actual Carter-Giardello fight at the end of the film.Bochetto says his client, who's retired and living in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was never consulted during the making of the film and was shocked by its portrait of him.The film, he says, has ruined Giardello's reputation in the community where he's active as a volunteer and has tarnished his image among fight fans as a "courageous, talented, duck-no-fighter competitor whose in-the-ring accomplishments made him legendary in boxing circles worldwide."Sam Chaiton, a member of the Toronto commune whose efforts helped spring Carter from jail, is co-author of Lazarus And The Hurricane, one of the two books on which the movie is based. It has Carter losing "a controversial split decision" to Giardello.Chaiton says he doesn't know anything about the current controversy. "We have nothing to say about it."NOW's calls to Universal Pictures and Rudy Langlais, a producer of the film, went unanswered.Michael Levine, a T.O.-based entertainment lawyer who produced the Terry Fox film, says, "There isn't a film made that doesn't take some licence. It's de rigueur. To have Carter lose the fight (fair and square) just doesn't make the point that the system is stacked against him."