“VIGILANTE: The Hayward Brown Story” premieres Sept. 1

J. Allen as Mark Clyde Bethune, Sean Brown as Hayward Brown, and Desmond Williams as John Percy Boyd

By Diane Bukowski

“Vigilante–The Story of Hayward Brown” is scheduled for a grand opening Sept. 1, 2010 at the Emagine Theater, 39535 Ford Rd. w. of Warren in Canton, MI. It will be in area theaters Sept. 3. 

Vigilante poster

The film is co-produced by Brown and Henrietta Brown. Brown also wrote the film and Gabrielle Brown wrote the screenplay. Vigilante’s stars include Brown, J. Allen, Desmond Williams, Lunita Wills, Shawntay Dalon, Antonio Miller, Jerry Lynch and Eric Palmer.  

Acclaimed Hollywood actor Clifton Powell approached Brown about the film after he learned about its topic. Powell appears in and narrates the film. 

The movie features a soundtrack by Buzzed-Up Productions and other artists. It was filmed on-site in Detroit and Atlanta. An after-party Sept. 2, featuring an appearance by Powell and live music by John Brown, will be held at Studio 51, 1995 Woodbridge, Detroit.  

Clifton Powell

“We’ve experienced a long hard road getting here,” Brown said, “but film and music have kept us positive.” Brown’s crew was falsely arrested by Detroit police while filming outside J. Allen’s home. The arrests, and the crew’s battle against charges of carrying “facsimile weapons,” which were eventually dropped, delayed production.  The film’s topic is not one favored by the police. 

“Vigilante” tells the story of Hayward Brown, Mark Clyde Bethune, and John Percy Boyd, college students in 1970’s Detroit, who went to war to rid their community of big-time heroin dealers. The three got into shoot-outs with Detroit cops from the infamous undercover STRESS unit (Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets). STRESS, which was guarding the drug houses targeted by the trio, had already killed at least 17 Black men. During the shoot-outs, STRESS officer Robert Bradford was killed and another officer wounded.  

De'Andre King, J. Allen, Sean Brown and Desmond Williams with trailer showing the real Hayward Brown, left center and attorney Kenneth Cockrel, Sr. at right

“In the weeks which followed, STRESS put the Black neighborhoods under martial law in one of the most massive and ruthless police manhunts in Detroit history,” historian Dan Georgakas said in his book, Detroit, I Do Mind Dying. “Hundreds of Black families had their doors literally broken down and their lives threatened by groups of white men in plainclothes who had no search warrants and often did not bother to identify themselves as police.”  

Police killed one man during the home invasions, and eventually tracked down and killed Bethune and Boyd. Hundreds came to their funerals. Hayward Brown was captured and tried in Detroit. He was represented by the late famed attorney Kenneth Cockrel, Sr., who.put STRESS on trial instead. Detroiters held massive rallies supporting Brown, including speakers like City Council President Emerita Erma Henderson.   

Brown was acquitted, but was shot to death in Detroit in 1984 under “mysterious circumstances.” Many believed the police killed him. No charges have ever been brought in the case.  

Brown said he grew up in Detroit’s North End, following in his uncle Henry Brown’s footsteps while he pursued his dreams. Brown’s uncle was a well-known local playwright who formed the Toussaint Players. Brown experienced his share of tragedy, losing two brothers. One was killed in 1997 while being robbed. The other died in what the coroner ruled a “suicide,” but Brown said his brother was not suicidal.  

“I’ve always wanted to invest in Detroit talent,” Brown said. “There is an untapped market here where you can really make millions if you stay here. There are plenty of talented actors, writers, producers and editors. Right now, I’m trying to get a grant to mentor young people 12 to 17 years old. I have groups of them watching us shoot. I picked up a lot of my knowledge the same way while watching my uncle Henry.”  

He discussed numerous problems that Detroit filmmakers face, since the city and state film offices give preference to Hollywood producers. Michigan grants the highest film tax credits in the country, but only to filmmakers who spend more than $50,000 on location. Brown said he wants to form a Detroit metropolitan area union for film professionals, because he said it is difficult to get into the national Screen Actors Guild.  

He grew animated as he talked about new projects he is working on.  

“I have a relative who did 25 years in prison, who was associated with Young Boys, Inc. (YBI),” he said. “Now he is fighting diabetes and bone problems. I put him in my film, and I want to tell his story in another film. I want to do another movie about the utilities shut-offs DTE does, and how it affects the local economy. How can you let one company monopolize a market like that?”  

B.U.P. Films has a website at www.bupfilms.com.

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6 Responses to “VIGILANTE: The Hayward Brown Story” premieres Sept. 1

  1. Julian Bethune Jr. says:

    What a surprise to see this website about the story about these three Black American heroes. Mark Clyde Bethune is my father’s older brother. My dad is the late Julian Bethune Sr. I hope to find a copy of this movie immediately so that I can sit down with my family and relieve the story that my aunt Whinnie told in her book entitled “IBO” The Untold Story of Mark Clyde Bethune. My uncle and his friends were revolutionaries with the voice and the hands for those who were afraid or couldn’t protect and fend for themselves. The passion that each of them embodied runs through my veins and is forever the bain of my purpose on this earth. My children are also branches of that tree and if their great uncle were alive today he would be enamored with who they have become. My sincere appreciation goes out to the Brown family for putting in the work to capture this story (not trategy) of these men whos character, integrity and courage wouldn’t let them just sit by and allow criminals to run unchecked through their communities no matter who they be. May the lord continue to keep and bless you for this work. It will be my business to get both the IBO book and this movie into the library in my town for all to remember and enjoy. Take care…


  2. Sonya Ogu says:

    I would also like to purchase a copy of The Hayward Brown DVD and other projects that Sean Brown & BUP Films are working on. Can you tell me where I can order them.
    I went to school with one of Hayward’s sisters and I can clearly remember this story & how it was handled by the media and STRESS. I’m so glad that the story was brought to life on the big screen. I’m looking forward to future projects from Sean Brown and BUP films. I am also interested in working with the film group. Email me at: moviestar4u@gmail.com

  3. Lisa Lenzo says:

    Do you know where I can buy a DVD of Vigilante? I tried to buy the movie through B.U.P. films but couldn’t get their website to work. I’m a writer doing research for a novel that includes Hayward Brown as a character.

  4. Donald L. Crawford Sr. says:

    To: Diane Bukowski: Thanks for your comments. I would like to see the movie. Where is it available? I could tell you more about Mark Bethune, aka “IBO”. You can call me or e mail me at donaldcrawfordsr@yahoo.com. Thanks. Lets wake these buttermilk drinking Negros up.

  5. Diane Bukowski says:

    Thanks for your comment. It was so uplifting to hear from someone who knew Mark Bethune and discussed the revolution with him. Along with hundreds of others from the Black community here in Detroit, I attended both his funeral and that of John Boyd. The crowds that came out were very militant. We marched later to free Hayward Brown; I believe the police finally killed him years later when he was trying to rid his mother’s nieghborhood of a drug house. They made it look like a hit. Those were greatly heroic and inspiring times. I wish that young people today could have experienced them. I hope that they will once again. The struggle continues!

  6. Donald L. Crawford Sr. says:

    I am amazed that young people today still remember those three revolutionary heros. I met Mark Bethune in Los Angeles (where I still live) and he was very focused and determned. He told me he wanted me to join him. I did not know the history of the Detroit STRESS shooting at that time. I met him through a mutual friend from Detroit who had moved to LA. I remember reading the headlines in the LA Times “Mark Bethune killed on Atlanta rooftop”. We talked for many hours about the revolution. He was one of a kind, not the type of “Negro” that permeates America today. I am glad the you are keeping the real story alive.

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