Kilpatrick not 'urban hero' in new biopic

Local filmmaker loses Kilpatrick family endorsement

DETROIT – A local movie producer familiar with the streets of Detroit set out to make a movie that would make Kwame Kilpatrick look like an urban hero, however, that isn't how the film turned out.

As a young, aspiring film maker, Flip Willson said he looked up to Kilpatrick when he was first elected mayor.

"He actually gave me some things to identify with as a young man," Willson said. "And just the sheer fact that he was 31 years of age when he was elected, the youngest mayor of Detroit."

Now a decade later, Willson is about to release a movie about the man who inspired him. Willson said he originally decided to "go out and make Kwame the hero."

With Kilpatrick as the hero, it was exactly the kind of movie the former mayor's family wanted to get involved with.

"We went to him morally because we wanted to show him the film before we put it out and asked him to actually endorse the film for us," Willson said.

Willson said the Kilpatrick's loved how the film began, comparing Kilpatrick to Coleman Young, the city's first African-American mayor.

"To this day we know that Coleman Young was scrutinized and had a lot of allegations thrown at him," Willson said. "But he's still a hero in the public's eye and a lot of people believe that about Kwame as well."

The movie says Kilpatrick took over what Young started, a movement to empower African-Americans in Detroit. A position Willson says made true by the people of Detroit.

"It's valid because the way the public, the way Detroit is feeling about Kwame and Coleman Young, that's what makes it valid," the producer said.

Kilpatrick agreed to be interviewed for the film and his sister, Ayanna Kilpatrick gave detailed notes on what to keep, what to cut and what to change. But then, Willson said, something went wrong.

"We had a situation where the film started out excellent, they loved it, but the way we portrayed him in certain scenes, they weren't comfortable with," Willson said.
Willson said as he worked his way through the city's neighborhoods, he realized Detroiters did love Kilpatrick, but they also felt betrayed.

The movie makes some mistakes, giving credit to Kilpatrick for bringing the Super Bowl and stadiums to Detroit, when those deals were done during Dennis Archer's administration. The movie uses local and national news coverage to tell the story, but also offers unique insight from citizens, going to neighborhoods where Kilpatrick grew up and talking to many of the people whose voices had not yet been heard.

The movie also includes segments on Kilpatrick's failures with Christine Beatty, questions about the death of exotic dancer Tamara Greene and allegations of theft, bribery and conspiracy in the federal criminal case—all which cost Willson the Kilpatrick family's endorsement.

"They wanted to re-edit the film, put their spin on it and I just felt like it wouldn't be the untold story if we just gave one opinion," Willson said.

The film "Kwame Kilpatrick: The Untold Story" will be released June 4.