Famous filmmaker Harvey Weinstein wants changes in the criminal justice system. And, he believes he has the pull to make it happen.
The Hollywood “Big Hitter” teamed up with Jay Z, investor and businessman and rapper, to create the new docuseries “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.” It’s the tragic story of African American Kalief Browder, who took his own life after being released from Riker’s Island prison.
Although young Kalief was never convicted of any crime, he spent three long years professing his innocence. He was brutalized by both prison guards and other inmates, starved and thrown into solitary confinement. After his release, he eventually gave up on life and committed suicide.
Now, Weinstein is calling for something to be done about the unjust ways of the criminal justice system:
“The system’s going to change now. We’re not making a documentary with these guys and leaving it as is,” Weinstein told the Daily News after a Town Hall discussion panel Wednesday.
“When I did ‘The Thin Blue Line,’ that guy walked out of jail. When I did ‘The Imitation Game,’ 39,000 people got pardoned. When we did ‘Philomena,’ I went to the Pope to make sure those Irish nuns taking care of those unwed mothers, that there was justice from Pope Francis. We don’t win on this until we get the win.”
Browder was only 16 when was arrested in the Bronx for allegedly stealing a backpack in 2010. He suffered through brutal beatings from his fellow inmates, a distressing reality captured on video and included in Weinstein’s sobering — and often difficult to watch — documentary, which airs on Spike.
He waited three years — including two in solitary confinement — for a trial that never came, only to be released once his case was dismissed in 2013. But Browder was never the same after his haunting experience in prison and took his own life two years later.
The six-part docu-series marks Jay Z’s first project since joining The Weinstein Company in 2016 to produce films and TV series. Weinstein, 64, says he was familiar with Browder’s story before the rapper approached him with ideas for the documentary, but it was Jay Z’s influence that put things into motion.
“We had put a partnership together to do TV, to do movies,” Weinstein said. “We were first thinking we will make some commercial stuff, and as we moved along we said, ‘You know what, we’ve made a lot of commercial stuff. Time to move into this and get people motivated and activated.'”
The series may center on New York City’s primary prison complex, but the makers of “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” want people to understand that cases like these aren’t unique to that one jail.
Executive producer Jenner Furst hopes the documentary prompts viewers to fight for reform.
“The message is that America needs to wake up right now and look at what’s happening. We can’t all just go to sleep like it’s alright,” Furst told the Daily News. “It’s not alright. You need to stand up and make the change, be the change as Jay Z said.”
The first two episodes of “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” aired the last two weeks, and new installments will continue to premiere on Spike the next four Wednesdays.
Weinstein says Browder’s bravery and ability to persevere through his distressing stay at Rikers now allows people to truly witness the flaws of the criminal justice system.
“This guy’s a hero. He’s tough,” Weinstein said. “That’s why they watch. If it was a tragedy, they’d watch a half hour of it and they’d turn it off. They’re going to come, millions and millions of people, and nobody’s going to forget this dude’s name. He stood up, and we’re standing up too.”