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HBO orders documentary on Yusef Hawkins

This graffiti memorial pays tribute to Yusef Hawkins,

This graffiti memorial pays tribute to Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old African American who was murdered on Aug. 23, 1989 in Bensonhurst and is the subject of the documentary "Storm Over Brooklyn." Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt


Twenty-nine years ago this August, Yusef Hawkins and three friends went to Bensonhurst to check out a used Pontiac for sale. They were set upon by a mob. Hawkins, 16, was shot twice, and died. What followed changed the city, and nation. Mayor Edward I. Koch's bid for a fourth term was upended, and David Dinkins became New York's first and only black mayor. Hawkins' murder galvanized a national protest movement that lives to this day, most prominently in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Now, three decades later, comes the film: HBO has ordered "Storm Over Brooklyn,"  a documentary by filmmaker Muta'Ali Muhammad -- who goes by Muta'Ali -- and which last fall was named winning entry in an initiative sponsored by the American Black Film Festival and Lightbox, a London-based production company co-founded by Oscar winner Simon Chinn and his cousin Jonathan Chinn. The film will air next year, most likely around the 30th anniversary of the incident on Aug. 23.

"Storm Over Brooklyn" is something of a departure for Muta'Ali, who has previously produced films on hip-hop artists, web-based reality series and had bit parts in a few films, like the 2006 mockumentary, "Return of the Jackalope."

But he has -- however tangential -- a distant link to Hawkins: His grandparents, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, co-starred in 1990's "Jungle Fever," which Spike Lee dedicated to the murdered teen. Davis, who died in 2005, and Dee, who died in 2014, had starred in a number of other Lee "joints." The renowned stage actors and prominent activists were also married 57 years.

Muta'Ali, in fact, produced a 2014 film on his legendary grandparents, entitled "Life's Essentials With Ruby Dee." It's a fascinating and highly idiosyncratic portrait of two stars as refracted through the admiring gaze of a reverent grandson ("Just breathing your air made me feel royal"), who wants to know how to live life according to their dictates.

"I read about you and Grandpa having an open marriage," he asks his "Gram-Ruby" at one point. "Would you recommend that for me?"

In one of her last interviews, Dee looks at him in disbelief, then says "No, I would not advise that." She adds, "our capacity to love defines us more than anything, as well as our capacity to love people without sleeping with them."

Muta'Ali, who has secured interviews with members of Hawkins' family along with many others, according to Lightbox, said in a statement, "I'm delighted that Yusef Hawkins, the effect his murder had on the public, and the locked away regret, sorrow, questions and history that those involved have held onto for nearly 30 years, will finally see the light of day in the context of our time." 

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