In 2018, director Lenny Abrahamson and producer Ed Guiney will make a movie about Emile Griffith, a bisexual boxer who killed his homophobic competitor in an infamous 1962 match. The Emile Griffith film will likely come out in late 2018 or sometime in 2019.
The real-life tragedy behind the Emile Griffith film
On March 24, 1962, openly bisexual American boxer Emile Griffith fought Cuban fighter Benny “The Kid” Paret at Madison Square Garden in a match televised by ABC. During the weigh-in for the fight, Paret allegedly did a mincing walk towards Griffith, touched his butt and called him a maricón — a Spanish slur roughly meaning “faggot.” Griffith reportedly had to be restrained from attacking him on the spot.
Though his sexuality wasn’t entirely a secret, the press and Griffith’s then girlfriend were both present at the weigh-in and not entirely aware of his sexuality. In 1962, having sex with someone of the same-gender could land you in prison, get you outed in newspapers and effectively kill your career.
Griffith was defending his world title against Paret and he entered the ring enraged by Paret’s insult and presumption. In the 12th round, he trapped Paret in a corner and began a barrage of jabs and uppercuts that rendered Paret unconscious. As the referee separated them, Paret’s body slumped against the ropes and to the canvas.
Paret had lost consciousness and never woke back up. He left the ring on a stretcher. He died in a hospital 10 days later.
Experts now think that Paret died due to injuries he had sustained his three previous bouts, but the fight changed Griffith’s life and made him infamous in the fighting world. He later admitted that the experience compelled him to take it easier on future opponents, terrified that he might killing another opponent in the ring.
The director of the Emile Griffith film explains his interest
Griffith’s life and fight against Paret have been the subject of two non-fiction novels, Ron Ross’ 2008 book Nine Ten and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith and Donald McRae’s 2015 book A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith. Soon, he will also be immortalized in a film biopic.
Abrahamson told deadline.com:
It is so rich that it’s hard to know where to start. As a character study, Griffith is incredibly compelling. There was a gentleness and innocence about him, and he never seemed conflicted about his sexuality; indeed he found joy in it. He inhabited two worlds – the underground gay scene in New York in the ‘60s and the macho world of boxing. The societal stigma at that time was dreadful and created a crushing pressure on him.
Griffith’s fateful bout with Paret also occurred during the advent of the U.S. African-American Civil Rights Movement, a time of great racial unrest and societal injustice whose battles continue to this day. Griffith once told Newsday:
I keep thinking how strange it is … I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgivable sin; this makes me an evil person. So, even though I never went to jail, I have been in prison almost all my life.
In 1992, while leaving a gay bar near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City Griffith was viciously beaten and almost killed on the street. He was hospitalized for four months afterwards and died of dementia pugilistica (aka. chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a neurodegenerative disease common in people who’ve had multiple head injuries or blows to the head, like those incurred through boxing.
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