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Made-for-TV atonement

Notorious gang founder 'Tookie' Williams, on death row for murder, says he's reformed. A new cable movie shines a favorable light on his road to -- and possibly from -- perdition.

January 11, 2004|Bob Baker | Times Staff Writer

This is not an original thesis -- it is reminiscent of Malcolm X's use of "brainwashing" as a metaphor -- but it resonates when it comes from a gangster. In the movie, Foxx recites a shorter version, guaranteeing "Redemption" will have one of the most racially sophisticated moments of 2004. Foxx's Williams talks movingly about how the Crips became a family for a boy abandoned by his father, how he wants "to stop this madness I created," how " 'revenge' is no longer in my vocabulary."

What Foxx's Williams doesn't do is address his responsibility, or lack of it, in the four murders. (The closest he gets is: "Every morning I wake up, I know I'm not supposed to be here.") By contrast, Williams' legal appeal is clearly based on a claim of innocence. Victims'rights advocates, who have not seen the movie, are almost certain to judge it as unbalanced. "I think the title should have been 'Redemption?' with a question mark," said Jonathan Raven, who is in charge of the state attorney general's victims unit.

Murder victim Owens' daughter, Rebecca, who was 8 when he was killed and is now a mother of four living outside California, said she was enraged when she came across news of "Redemption" on the Internet several months ago. "The man is asking for redemption and he's never even apologized" for the murders, she said.

"Everyone who views it will view it from their own perspective," director Hall said with resignation last summer. "The thing I want to do is tell a human story and talk about the redemption of Stan, his journey from super-gangster to almost sage now, and the journey of Barbara, who came in with a predisposition not to like Stan.... Stan viewed her as a sellout, she viewed him as a thug, and both ideas were wrong."

Early in "Redemption" we hear gruesome court testimony recounting the four murders, and we watch Williams at the moment of conviction. The movie also includes a fictitious scene in which a protester comes to Becnel's home and dumps a canister of blood on her and yells: "This is for the victims! You support a murderer!"

"I support human rights!" the Becnel character yells back. "God is not about violence and hate! God is about forgiveness and repentance!"

It's not hard to imagine the same argument -- with no middle ground and no place to hide -- ringing through family rooms in April.

Bob Baker can be reached at

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