Over the past three decades, Mike Tyson’s turbulent life story has been retold and repackaged countless times Books, shows, podcasts and documentaries – often with input from the former heavyweight champion himself.
But in Mike, the unauthorized Hulu miniseries that Tyson has repeatedly turned down, executive producers Karin Gist and Samantha Corbin-Miller wanted a key part of Tyson’s story from the perspective of Desiree Washington, 18-year-old Miss Black America, re-examine a candidate who accused him of luring and raping her to his room at the Canterbury Hotel in Indianapolis in the early hours of July 19, 1991.
Tyson was convicted on February 10, 1992 on multiple charges including rape and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in March 1995 and continues to maintain his innocence. After the trial, Washington agreed to a single sit-down interview with Barbara Walters on ABC’s 20/20, but has since disappeared from public view.
Directed by Tiffany Johnson, the fifth episode of the eight-part series, Desiree, follows Washington’s encounters with Tyson and the latter’s criminal trial, based on news reports, public records and court transcripts. While the other parts use Tyson’s one-man show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth to have their iteration of the boxer – played by Trevante Rhodes – speak directly to the audience, the creative team felt it was essential to tell the rape case the perspective of his victim, whose decision to come forward in the early 1990s was met with widespread criticism and backlash.
“The more we delved into Desiree’s story, the clearer it became that this episode was hers and that it should stand as a sharp turning point in a series that up until now had been told from Mike’s point of view,” said Corbin-Miller, the who co-wrote the episode with Gist, told The Times.
After months of auditions, producers settled on Li Eubanks, who brought the right combination of “intelligence, warmth, vulnerability and strength” to portray Washington, says Corbin-Miller. Eubanks, whose previous credits include “If Not Now, When?” and “All Rise” admits she had no prior knowledge of Washington or her controversial case, but she spent hours analyzing Washington’s interview with Walters — not only to study her rhythm and manners, but to learn more Gaining insight into their state of mind the time of the attack.
Washington, who had been crowned Miss Black Rhode Island and voted the friendliest and most talkative in her high school, was an incoming college freshman and had likely never spent time alone away from home, says Eubanks, so it was important to share some of it to show naivety and innocence of youth. When Mike invites her over late one night, Desiree thinks she’s just “meeting a celebrity for the first time — and not just any celebrity, but a celebrity who loves and adores her family, who loves and adores America.”
But when Mike lures her into his hotel room under the pretense of wanting to “talk a little,” Desiree begins to feel increasingly uncomfortable, reflected in the way the camera slowly follows her across the room, panning down from above to make her look smaller. “Her eyes were so bright, and after that you see the light fading a little bit,” says Eubanks of her character’s transformation.
After Mike calls her “a good Christian girl,” Desiree, who has already explained that “one-night stands aren’t my thing,” goes to the bathroom to defuse the situation and collect herself, explains Eubanks. Looking at herself in the mirror, “Desiree tells herself, ‘I’m in a difficult situation, but I’m going to get out of this situation and everything will be fine.’ I think she really held onto every little faith.”
The harrowing sexual assault is not portrayed directly on screen. But as Desiree in the gray suit describes on the witness stand how Mike forced her into non-consensual, unprotected sex, viewers can hear the hotel room bed shaking and Desiree’s heavy breathing and strained pleading in the background. Given the sensitive nature of those scenes, Corbin-Miller, Gist and Johnson were “all extremely protective” of Eubanks and Rhodes. “The set was closed with an emergency crew for the assault scenes, and we gave the actors the time and support they needed to delve into some very dark moments,” reveals Corbin-Miller.
Three days after the attack, Washington went to the police and accused Tyson of rape. Six months later, she testified against him in court – a scene that Eubanks said was “very chilling” and “harrowing” to recreate as the writers tried to stay true to the court transcripts. When Desiree first enters the courtroom, “It’s very quiet, you could hear a pin drop,” says Eubanks. “Oddly, it just felt like everyone was sort of against you, or everyone was just looking at you or judging you.”
During his trial, members of the black community – including black women and religious leaders – testified for Tyson, and a number of people continued to abuse Washington after the fact. “This all happened three decades before the #MeToo movement, [when] “Blaming the victim” was still the norm, especially when the victim was up against a powerful celebrity,” explains Corbin-Miller. “When this incident happened, William Kennedy Smith had just won his sexual assault case, and Anita Hill’s testimony had not stopped Clarence Thomas from being called to the Supreme Court.”
In the eyes of these people, Eubanks says, “Because they already have that image in their heads of who that person is, what that person represents, and what that person means to them, nothing else can be true. When people really adore someone, it’s quite difficult to look at everything or consider that a few things can be true at once.”
Corbin-Miller is quick to point out that “the belief in Mike and the vitriol directed against Desiree” was not limited to blacks. Much of the public sided with Tyson. “But I think it was the long, reprehensible history of falsely accusing black men of rape in order to brutalize, imprison and murder them that caused the majority of black people to rally around Mike,” she says . “Mike was also part of a much smaller pool of black A-list celebrities than he is today. Ripping Mike Tyson off his heroic pedestal was a personal affront to many. Unfortunately, Desiree Washington, a black woman, didn’t get nearly as much unconditional public support.”
As black women, “we’re very vulnerable at times, we get silenced and we don’t have the voice that we should, and I think it just fell to that side,” says Eubanks. “I think people just saw it [the trial] as she defeats Mike Tyson and defeats this successful black man [the fact that] She’s a black woman and she was hurt too, so I don’t think anyone has ever really stopped to think about it.
Because Washington has shunned publicity for the past three decades, some critics have argued that revisiting her story could be seen as exploitative. But Corbin-Miller says the intent was to honor Washington’s history. “We wanted to allow her voice to be heard without being filtered through Mike, the media or public opinion like it was then. Our intention was to pay tribute to Desiree Washington’s courage to stand by her cause and testify against her abuser.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-09-15/hulu-mike-tyson-desiree-washington-rape-trial-conviction How ‘Mike’ on Hulu told Tyson rape victim’s side of story