Will Films, Books Change White Boy Rick’s Image — and Life?
A fascinating story on how the failed War on Drugs and Police corruption has caused a massive injustice for the longest-serving non-violent juvenile offender in Michigan.
Detroit Free Press: Will films, books change White Boy Rick’s image — and life?
A new documentary about Richard Wershe Jr. opens with video clips of him inside a courtroom as a somber, pasty-faced man nearing 50.
“Being in prison the last 29 years is like being dead … Everyone knows who I am. But no one knows the real reason I’m in here,” he says in a voice-over, talking by phone from prison. Within seconds, there’s a black-and-white video clip of Wershe as a skinny kid with a wispy mustache and a gaze that seems uncertain and worried.
The compelling, convoluted story of what happened to Wershe is the focus of “White Boy,” which will have its world premiere on Friday at Freep Film Festival. Using interviews and archival footage , filmmaker Shawn Rech portrays White Boy Rick — a nickname popularized by a media frenzy in the 1980s — as a pawn in a much bigger saga of law enforcement betrayal and police corruption.
It’s a fascinating journey that feels like HBO’s “The Wire,” Netflix’s “Narcos” and a prime-time soap like “Empire” all rolled into one. And it’s only the beginning of a national spotlight aimed at the 47-year-old Wershe, the longest-serving non-violent juvenile offender in Michigan.
The documentary will be followed early next year by “White Boy Rick,” a feature film now shooting in Cleveland. It stars newcomer Richie Merritt as the young Wershe and Oscar-winning star Matthew McConaughey as his father. While the producers wouldn’t talk about any specifics, It’s been described as a father-son drama immersed in the drug epidemic of the Reagan era.
The movie will be accompanied by a memoir with the same title, “White Boy Rick,” that’s being co-written by Wershe and metro Detroit journalist Scott Burnstein. It will complement the movie by offering a deep dive into what Burnstein calls “the nooks and crannies” of the real-life tale.
In addition, veteran Detroit TV reporter Vince Wade, now living in California, is close to finishing his book on Wershe and how his story relates to the sprawling, flawed war on drugs still being waged by America.
Like a tide rolling in, the momentum of these projects could wash away the old public image of Wershe, which to some extent remains in a time capsule, and create a new one that could help his fight for freedom.
“Ask somebody if they know who Richard Wershe is. Then ask the same person who White Boy Rick is. ‘Oh yeah!’ The White Boy Rick image has been a real albatross around his neck, and he’s fighting to get rid of that,” says Wade, who maintains a blog about the case.
Wershe was locked up in 1987 on a life sentence without parole for possession with intent to deliver more than 650 grams of cocaine. Because of changes in drug laws, he is now serving life with a possibility of parole. He was denied parole in 2003 and again in 2007 and 2012. He has had one public hearing, back in 2003, during his nearly three decades in prison, though the Michigan Department of Corrections has raised the possibility of another one happening later this year.