In the sweep of American history nothing has mattered more than how we have met the challenge of living together in a society of great diversity. The circumstances of migration – forced or voluntary, desperate or confident – have shaped our individual destinies and our national narrative. Many of the most compelling true tales have revolved around the African American struggle for survival and equality.
In his original story for the film Deacons for Defense, Michael D’Antonio recalled a little-known, but highly consequential episode of the civil rights struggle. To capture the story Michael worked with surviving leaders of the organization who revealed the breadth of their effort to protect civil rights workers and ordinary citizens who sought equality in the face of threats and violence. The result was a powerful Showtime original film that revealed the true story of armed resistance by men whose ancestors came to America as slaves. Starring Forest Whitaker and Ossie Davis, Deacons won four prestigious Black Reel awards.
Equally dramatic and inspiring, Crown Heights is also based on an original, true story informed by the community leaders who sought to calm their Brooklyn neighborhood after it was roiled by riots. The inciting incident was a tragic auto accident in which two Black children were struck by a car in the motorcade of a prominent rabbi. One of the children died. Some Black youth responded violently as simmering animosities rose to the surface. A young Jewish man was attacked and killed on the street. Hundreds of police were deployed to quell the unrest.
The film, which stars Howie Mandel and Mario Van Peebles, takes up the story after the open violence has subsided. It follows two young leaders, an orthodox rabbi and an African American minister who struggle to bring some understanding and reconciliation to the streets. Praised by The New York Times as a “nuanced and affecting look at race relation” Crown Heights does not sugarcoat the reality which makes it “the most fitting tribute” to the victims and the community. Michael D’Antonio and screenwriter Toni Ann Johnson received the Humanitas Award for their work putting the story on the page, which eventually reached the screen.