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We have some major concerns about Jamie Foxx's Mike Tyson biopic Finding Mike

Digital Spy (UK) logo Digital Spy (UK) 30/06/2020 Gabriella Geisinger
Jamie Foxx looking at the camera: The upcoming biopic Finding Mike will star Jamie Foxx as Mike Tyson. The boxer is a convicted rapist and domestic abuser. © Santiago Felipe/Getty Image The upcoming biopic Finding Mike will star Jamie Foxx as Mike Tyson. The boxer is a convicted rapist and domestic abuser.

The following article contains allegations of sexual misconduct that some readers may find distressing.

There is nothing we love more than learning about how the people we love became famous. Whatever they're famous for – music, acting, sports – we love a rags-to-riches, obscurity-to-fame story.

We especially love them when the 'before' aspect of a story is full of hardship, things to be overcome, obstacles and dramatic moments that make us clutch our chests in empathy. Some films do it better than others, and it takes a very unique kind of person to build a biopic around.

Jamie Foxx has recently confirmed that he'll be playing legendary boxer Mike Tyson in the biopic Finding Mike that will show the man's "journey." In an Instagram Live, Foxx said: "I saw him at the height of his career, and then when things got bad and bumpy I also saw him as well. So what I'm excited about the movie is to show those moments.

"Bumpy" is something of an understatement, and cause for consternation (odd that Foxx would classify it as such because he faced an accusation in 2018 of historic assault from 2002, though he emphatically denied any wrongdoing), especially given the kind of 'redemption biopic' this seems like it will be. We stress 'seems' – the movie has not been made yet.

Yes, Mike Tyson's performance as a boxer is the stuff of legend. He was undisputed world heavyweight champion from 1987 to 1990 and the first heavyweight boxer to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles all at the same time.

He won his first belt at 20 years, four months and 22 days old, which made him the youngest boxer to win a heavyweight title. He is also a convicted rapist and has been quoted as admitting to domestic abuse.

In July 1991 Tyson was arrested for the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington, and in March 1992 he was sentenced to six years in prison and four years of probation. Tyson was 25 at the time of the crime, but nonetheless was placed in the Indiana Youth Centre and served less than three years.

Mike Tyson holding a dog: Mike Tyson, The Hangover, 2009 © Rex/Shutterstock Mike Tyson, The Hangover, 2009

Now, we know everyone loves a good redemption story, but there are some things from which you just can't come back. When you consider that Tyson was also quoted as admitting to beating his first wife, Robin Givens, it would be hard to stomach a "forgiveness arc".

In Jose Torres' biography Fire and Fear: The Inside Story of Mike Tyson, he reportedly admitted to punching Givens. The author, a former friend of Tyson, quotes him as saying: "That was the best punch I've ever thrown in my entire life."

If that doesn't send chills up your spine, we don't know what will.

Robin Givens smiling for the camera © Dia Dipasupil - Getty Images Robin Givens

And if you're thinking that maybe Torres flat out lied, Tyson did admit to hitting Givens on Oprah: "I have socked her before," he said, and the audience laughed. He also claimed Givens hit him back, saying "It was just that kind of relationship."

Givens was swift to respond, writing to Oprah: "I was really, really hurt. It's tough for all women to experience this. It's tough to have a man say it and feel that it's no big thing."

Many will be eager to set this aside and focus on the ways in which Tyson has rebuilt his life, dealing with drug addiction and a comeback from bankruptcy. Yes, it's a good story – but it's impossible to divorce from Tyson's success the things he's done to women.

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Yet Hollywood's seemingly short memory is unfortunately not unprecedented, albeit for lesser objectionable behaviour in the case of Mel Gibson, who is on record making anti-semitic, racist and misogynistic rants, yet after a mere few years in relative professional isolation, he was welcomed back by Hollywood. His previous transgressions seem to be a thing of the past.

But for women who have been survivors of domestic abuse, there is no such thing as a 'thing of the past'. There are ways to process trauma, but it lives with you forever.

The list of male stars who have seemingly been unchallenged by Hollywood after

allegations of misconduct (or in some cases outright admissions) seems unending: Emile Hirsch (convicted of assaulting a woman) just starred in a film with the aforementioned Gibson. Casey Affleck (accused twice of sexual harrassment, denied the claims vehemently, settled out of court) won the Best Actor Oscar. Roman Polanski (accused of the rape of a minor, pleaded guilty to statutory rape and fled the country before sentencing) won the 2020 Best Director Cesar award. The Washington Post had the audacity to write: "Louis CK's sexual misconduct tanked his career. Now he's selling out theatres." (The comic admitted to multiple counts of sexual misconduct.) Johnny Depp (accused of domestic abuse, which he denies) is starring in another film. Jeremy Renner (accused of domestic abuse, which he denies) is about to take on the Hawkeye TV show. Morgan Freeman (accused of sexual harrassment by eight women, all of which he denies) is still beloved. TJ Miller (accused of sexual assault, which he denies), Dustin Hoffman (accused by seven women of sexual misconduct, all of which he denies)... We'll stop now.

a close up of a man wearing a suit and tie: Mel Gibson © Tristan Fewings - Getty Images Mel Gibson

Cancel culture is a myth, especially when it comes to some powerful, famous men. Yes, Tyson went to prison, therefore paying his debt to society as the adage goes, but it's hard to imagine a redemption arc that doesn't have a big caveat attached.

Tyson has said that the tragic death of his four-year-old daughter Exodus in 2009 inspired him to turn his life around. This is undeniably, abjectly sad, and it's good to know that people are capable of change, but these life moments don't exist on a scale, with one side outweighing the other. They are all equal-sized pieces of a puzzle that make up a man.

Foxx added: "I think everybody, from young and old, will be able to understand this man’s journey." But how far does understanding go? Do we 'understand' rape and domestic abuse as a symptom of something else? Whatever goes on behind the scenes for the rapist, rape is rape.

Jamie Foxx wearing a blue shirt: Jamie Foxx pictured in April 2018 © Getty Images Jamie Foxx pictured in April 2018

And Tyson's career hasn't been cancelled in the wake of his jail time, as both this biopic and the coverage around it shows. It wouldn't be the first time an abuser in film, whether based on a real person or fictional, has been given a redemption arc.

On the fictional side, Warrior featured Nick Nolte as a man redeemed from beating his sons. Netflix's hugely popular 365 Days is built around a man who kidnaps a woman to make her fall in love with him – spoiler alert, she does.

Tyson recently told The Sun: "[Jamie Foxx] can do a great job I know that. I'm very grateful. I'm very excited about it. I'm gonna sit down and tell him the truth and he's gonna have to learn to process that. It's not going to be pretty."

So perhaps Finding Mike will be sure not to absolve Tyson of his past, but rather hold it up as part and parcel of a man who can do good things, has his personal tragedies, and has also acted horribly, which cannot be excused or ignored based on his other facets.

This isn't to say films about people with complicated histories can't, or shouldn't, be made, but what's important is the subject isn't vindicated from their transgressions. Time doesn't equate to absolution, even if it does lessen the sting.

It also isn't to say you can't make films or shows that include a domestic violence narrative. Just look at Big Little Lies. In the case of Finding Mike, we can only hope that the biopic gives a balanced view of its subject, not one that obscures certain truths, nor glorifies the 'redemption' of the abuser.

Rape Crisis England and Wales works towards the elimination of sexual violence. If you've been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland's helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.

Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.

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