THE LEGACY: From Gary Graham to Shaka Sankofa FIVE SHORT CLIPS
I met the Graham family in the summer of 1993; Deidra was 12; little Gary was 14, and their father, Gary Graham, was on death row, scheduled to die in four weeks. The kids were pleading with a sympathetic Amnesty International audience to help save their innocent father’s life. Their anguish compelled me to look into his case and join the fight to save him. Little did I know that a chance meeting with two children from a background very different from my own would begin an 18 year journey with my “adopted” Houston family.
By 1993, Gary Graham had become an international cause celebre and flashpoint between pro and anti-death penalty activists. Texas Governor Ann Richards stayed his execution at the 11th hour.
The legal battle raged on for seven more years. I made two films trying to save Gary Graham’s life, “Justice on Trial” and “Bush’s Deadly Ambition.” But in June 2000, governor and presidential candidate George Bush did not intervene. Amid great controversy, Gary Graham, who by then had transformed himself into Shaka Sankofa, was executed. He cried out from the gurney about his innocence and the systemic genocide of the poor and minorities.
While the clock was ticking down for Shaka Sankofa, his son Gary Hawkins, then 20, was arrested for capital murder. The headlines screamed “like father, like son” and the media circus intensified. Unbelievably, Gary was framed by a career criminal and sentenced to 40 years for a murder he didn’t commit. In 2011, he begins his 12th year in prison, his appeals exhausted. Two years ago, Gary was diagnosed with a progressive form of Multiple Sclerosis. Gary’s only hope of going home to take care of his daughter is to ask the State of Texas for clemency.
Deidra was 19 when her father was executed; she already had a two-year-old daughter and was pregnant with a son she named Shaka Sankofa. In 2011, she has five children who live with her mother. Now 30, after years of aimlessness and drug use, and depression over her father’s execution, Deidra is in college, determined to get a job and take back her kids.
Before he was executed, Shaka asked me to look after his children and grandchildren. I’ve tried to keep that promise to him. But I couldn’t save Gary from hanging out with the wrong people; I couldn’t keep Deidra from making bad choices. But, maybe, I can help Shaka’s grandchildren have a better future. My new film is part of fulfilling my pledge to Shaka.
ABOUT THE FILM
“The Legacy: From Gary Graham to Shaka Sankofa” tells the story of three generations of an African-American family trapped by poverty, despair, and prison, and their struggle to break the cycle. Will Gary Hawkins get clemency and be reunited with his daughter? Will Deidra finish college and make a life for herself and her kids? Will Shaka Sankofa’s grandchildren stay in school and avoid the criminal justice system? Will the truth about executing an innocent man change the debate about capital punishment?
I’ve been filming the Graham family for 18 years and have my own priceless archival footage. Last June I interviewed Deidra’s oldest children Shardaisha and Shaka, and Gary’s daughter, Jontaisha, on the 10th anniversary of their grandfather’s execution. I put together five short clips to introduce the “The Legacy: From Gary Graham to Shaka Sankofa.” I hope you’ll take a look.
THE PLAN OF ACTION AND YOUR PARTICIPATION
“The Legacy” is an independent production that has been self-financed so far. But, as you know, making a feature documentary is expensive. Your contribution will move the film to the next level.
In the next four months, I have two major film shoots planned. I’m bringing Shardaisha, Shaka, Jontaisha and their cousin N’Kayla to Los Angeles for two weeks in August for more filming and some fun. These kids have never been out of inner city Houston. In the fall, I’ll be in Houston shooting the clemency process in action, as Deidra and the kids work with law students from the University of Houston’s Innocence Project on a clemency package for Gary, including a clemency video. I will also interview Gary for the first time since his incarceration.
I’m raising money on Kickstarter to pay production and travel expenses for these two important shoots. This new footage will allow me to make a trailer to apply for grants and other funding to get to the finish line.
Be part of our team and help make a film that will provoke honest discussions about race, injustice, equal opportunities, and saving children at risk. The American dream is still out of reach for too many kids. The Graham family's story is a microcosm of a much larger social problem that can’t be ignored any longer.
Please share this project with your friends, and ask them to share it with their friends. If a lot of people give a little money, we can make this film a reality. In college in the 1960’s, I saw first-hand the beauty and power of people uniting to make change. That’s why I love the idea of the community coming together to help make this film and make a difference.
WHAT IF WE EXCEED THE GOAL OF $15,000?
Kickstarter only charges your credit card if we reach our goal of $15,000 during the 30 day time period. However, if we surpass our goal, we can keep that money to continue shooting and editing. The finish date of the film is directly dependent on raising money for remaining production and post-production expenses.
In the meantime, I’m editing the Gary Graham/Shaka Sankofa story, which is part of the larger film, from the hundreds of hours of footage I shot over the years. The truth behind his execution still haunts me and should haunt America.
Each week of the Kickstarter campaign I will add a new clip and give updates about the film. As I was thinking about what incentives to offer, I realized what I have to give is my work over 35 years. Some of my earlier films are not available anywhere else.
Thanks to everyone who has touched my life and supported my work!
MICKI DICKOFF FILMS:
NESHOBA: THE PRICE OF FREEDOM (2010)
40 years after the murders of three civil rights workers, a Mississippi town struggles to face its violent, racist past and demand justice. 87 minutes
GET ON BOARD (2008)
Civil rights activist Ben Chaney takes young people on a Freedom Ride to honor his brother James on the 40th anniversary of his murder. 15 minutes.
STEP BY STEP: A JOURNEY OF HOPE (2007)
Murder victims’ families march through Texas speaking out against capital punishment and offering alternatives to execution. 75 minutes.
JUAN GARZA: A PLEA FOR CLEMENCY (2000)
Federal death row inmate Juan Garza and his family ask President Clinton to spare his life. 12 minutes.
BUSH'S DEADLY AMBITION (2000)
Made for British television, this news feature looks at the execution of Gary Graham and presidential politics. 13 minutes.
CELEBRATING THE LIFE OF SHAKA SANKOFA (2000)
Shaka Sankofa’s funeral, June 29, 2000. 80 minutes.
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE (1996) DRAMA
This is a true story about injustice, the death penalty and the power of friendship, starring Mimi Rogers, Veronica Hamel, Piper Laurie, Polly Bergen and Denise Richards. 92 minutes. (The story is about my best childhood friend wrongly convicted of murder and my mission to bring her home.)
NOT IN OUR NAME (1993)
The film follows the first Journey of Hope on their march through the Midwest led by murder victims’ families speaking out against the death penalty. 30 minutes
JUSTICE ON TRIAL: THE CASE OF GARY GRAHAM (1993)
The film presents compelling evidence that death row inmate Gary Graham, facing imminent execution in Texas, is innocent. 20 minutes.
THE SEEDLING: FOOD FOR THOUGHT (1992)
A food pantry in Los Angeles that feeds the working poor is forced to shut its doors. 20 minutes.
OUR SONS (1991) DRAMA
A story about two mothers from different backgrounds dealing with AIDS and struggling to accept their gay sons. Based on the documentary, “Too Little, Too Late,” the film stars Julie Andrews, Ann-Margret and Hugh Grant. 90 minutes.
MOTHER, MOTHER (1989) DRAMA
A story about a young man with AIDS estranged from his mother and the meaning of unconditional love. Early in the AIDS epidemic, this 35 mm film was made through the generosity of the Hollywood community who donated their time and talent to raise money, awareness and understanding about the disease. A labor of love, the film stars Bess Armstrong, Polly Bergen, Piper Laurie and John Dye, with Music by Henry Mancini and title song by Cris Williamson. 35 minutes
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE (1987)
Very early in the AIDS epidemic this film tells the stories of three families devastated by the loss of their children and the prejudice surrounding the disease in the 1980’s. One of the first films to humanize people with AIDS. 49 minutes
GOLDBEATING: THE MAKING OF GOLD LEAF (1984)
Commissioned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, this film documents the last two artisans in the western world who still beat gold by hand. Shot in London. 20 minutes.
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE: A PORTRAIT OF BUFFY (1982)
Buffy Dunker, who has three children and 19 grandchildren, finds love at a women’s softball game at age 72. This is a story about a woman taking risks and living every day. The documentary was shot with a B&W reel-to-reel porta-pak. 27 minutes.
MONDAY MORNING PRONOUNS (1977)
This experimental documentary tells the story of a young woman struggling to come out and be herself in a hostile world. The film was shot with a silent Super 8 movie camera and has a wild sound track. 51 minutes. (I have not seen this film in 25 years. It was never transferred to video. I have two Super 8 film prints, but I don’t dare put them in an old Super 8 projector. If enough people want this film, I'll have it transferred frame by frame to a digital format and make DVD’s.)
- (30 days)