Matt Ruskin’s Crown Heights became this year’s claimant of the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Audience Award tonight, after a powerful festival debut for the story – inspired by an episode of the This American Life podcast – about a man, wrongfully imprisoned for over 20 years for a murder he didn’t commit, and the people who worked to set him free.
“Colin Warner got caught up in this situation where a murder had occurred and he ultimately had to take the blame and the fall for it,” Lakeith Stanfield told Deadline at our Sundance Studio, by way of explaining the character he plays in the true-life miscarriage of justice that inspires Crown Heights. This American Life picked up the story of his friend, Carl King (played in Ruskin’s film by Nnamdi Asomugha), whose entire life was shaped by his unfaltering desire to free Warner from prison.
Said Asomugha: “I listened to This American Life and it was crazy when I found out. These two guys, when I think about them, they’re kind of the epitome of what it means to be human. There’s so much that they go through, one inside prison and one on the outside, and being able to come together. I think any time you’re able to humanize the plight of the wrongfully incarcerated, then you’re doing your job.”
Ruskin’s film ends – it’s no spoiler to reveal – with a statistic that an estimated 120,000 prisoners in America’s system are innocent of their crimes. “Just because you made mistakes in your life doesn’t mean you deserve to be treated less than human,” Stanfield insisted. “Especially if it’s a non-violent crime. It’s ridiculous, these drug laws, and we’ve know that from the ’80s. So it’s even more ridiculous when you haven’t done anything.”
Natalie Paul, who plays Warner’s partner Antoinette, said it was important to pitch in on issues such as these, even if people don’t have an intimate connection to a victim of injustice. “The biggest problem is we think of these people as other,” she said. “And not a part of our society and not worth remembering. Antoinette did not allow him to be forgotten.”
Check out more in our video interview above.
Actors, directors, filmmakers and special guests visiting the Deadline Studio at Sundance 2017 enjoyed sweet and savory treats, custom cocktails and more at Applegate’s REEL FOOD CAFE. Find out more about Applegate and their mission to change the meat we eat at www.applegate.com.