Irish director Lenny Abrahamson is attached to direct a film based on the life of Emile Griffith, a professional boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands who became a world champion in the welterweight and middleweight classes, and who also happened to be bisexual, and was public about it (keep in mind that this was during the 1950s to 1960s).
His best known contest was a 1962 title match with Benny Paret. At the weigh in, Paret infuriated Griffith by touching his butt, and making homophobic remarks. Griffith won the bout by knockout. Paret, who, it’s said, was vulnerable due to the beatings he took in his previous three fights leading up to the title match with Griffith (all of which happened within twelve months of each other), never recovered consciousness and died in the hospital 10 days later.
Director Abrahamson, who is best known for the comedy “Frank,” and the upcoming Oscar contender “Room,” will team up with Film4 to make the biographical 1960s-set drama, which will be based on the book, “A Man’s World: the Double Life of Emile Griffith” by Donald McRae.
“It is so rich that it’s hard to know where to start,” he told Deadline. “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.”
An extract from McRae’s book reads: “Griffith was about to step off the scales when he heard his trainer Gil Clancy shout: ‘Hey, watch it!’ He wheeled round. A smirking Paret feigned intercourse with him as his trainers whooped hysterically. He waggled a finger at Griffith. ‘Hey maricón,’ Paret said in a cooing lisp, ‘I’m gonna get you and your husband.’” That night, he beat his rival to death in the ring while millions watched live on TV. An investigation was launched and TV network ABC ended boxing broadcasts with other US networks following. They didn’t return until the 1970s. Griffith reportedly felt guilty over the death and had nightmares about it for 40 years, also continuing to struggle with his sexuality and societal acceptance of it. “They forgave me for killing a man, but they couldn’t forgive me for loving a man,” he said.
His life was previously the basis for a 2005 documentary called “Ring of Fire.”
Griffith fought 337 championship rounds in his career.
He died in 2013 at age 75 at a care facility in Hempstead, New York. In his final years, he required full-time care and suffered from dementia pugilistica. His adopted son, Luis Rodrigo Griffith, was his primary caregiver.
No further word on the Abrahamson’s upcoming feature film – casting, ETA, etc.
Watch footage of the last few seconds of the infamous Griffith-Paret bout that led to the latter’s death: