'Crown Heights' actors on the pain of injustice
By Lisa Respers France, CNN | 9/9/2017, 7:22 a.m.
(CNN) -- Colin Warner hopes that when audiences see "Crown Heights" it infuriates them.
"I want people to get so angry that it makes them want to do something," he told CNN. "Anything to help another human being."
The film is a dramatization of Warner's story of being imprisoned for more than two decades for a murder he did not commit.
Warner was an 18-year-old native of Trinidad, living in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights in 1980, when he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of 16-year-old Mario Hamilton.
Warner's friend Carl King helped lead the charge to prove his friend's innocence. Their story is portrayed on the big screen by "Atlanta" star Lakeith Stanfield as Warner and former NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha as King.
Asomugha, who also served as one of the producers of "Crown Heights," said the film is timely, given the current conversations about race relations and incarceration in this country.
"It's something all of our eyes are really getting open to now, when you see films like this and Ava DuVernay's '13th,' when you start reading books like 'Just Mercy' or 'The New Jim Crow,'" he said. "[Awareness] is in the atmosphere right now, and we are just doing our part to lend a voice to the conversation."
Following years of outcry from friends and family, a confession by another man and a reinvestigation of the case, Warner was finally released in 2001. He is now an outspoken advocate for a better justice system.
Watching the process of bringing his struggle to screen has led to new respect, Warner said, for actors and their craft.
Actors like Stanfield, who depicts Warner's battle against despair while incarcerated.
Stanfield said the film, which won the Sundance audience award, has a powerful message about friendship and community.
"It was an integral part of what Colin was able to do and how he was able to sustain, was through his friendships that took many forms," Stanfield told CNN. "In situations like this, nothing gets done without people working together as a community."
The effort to free Warner is portrayed as both intense and painful.
But Asomugha said that struggle shouldn't dissuade moviegoers, especially given the rarity of a film that explores the close friendship of two black men and the importance of highlighting cracks in the justice system.
"You should be supporting films like this that tell these kinds of stories, regardless of who is in front of or behind the camera," Asomugha said.
Stanfield said he believes "Crown Heights" can ultimately inspire positivity.
"There are many things about [the film] that will take you to many different places, but you have to be willing to go on the journey," Stanfield said. "I don't leave movies like this feeling like 'Woe is me,' I feel hopeful and like a change can take place."
"Crown Heights" is in theaters now.