In the mid 1980’s Detroit was in the throws of the crack epidemic. As the city rotted, a legend emerged; that of a teenage white boy leading a major drug organization. The legend made a great story for the local news and even found it’s way into rap lyrics, but it was all a lie. “White Boy” is a thorough examination of the shocking truth. Learn who inserted Rick into the drug world, who was protecting drug gangs, and who wanted him dead when he became a risk. Produced by the team that brought you “A Murder in the Park,” Richard Wershe Jr’s case will make your blood boil.
These are the words from the official website for White Boy, the official documentary on Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe’s cocaine career and case. Rick was locked away for life as a teen for cocaine distribution, though he got his start as an informant for the feds. The documentary will premier tonight in Detroit. We grabbed a word with the doc’s writer/producer Seth Ferranti for a little background info.
Don Diva: Why is White Boy Rick’s story so important?
Seth Ferranti: White Boy Rick’s story is so important because it shows the lengths that law enforcement was willing to go when they were fighting the “War on Drugs,” which is really a war on American people. He was a kid, an innocent basically, that was recruited to be an FBI informant when he was 14. Just think about that for a second. What kind of adult or responsible person would do something like that? It just shows the type of people that were fighting and fueling the “War on Drugs” and the mass incarceration that it spawned. They would use any means to bust people and when that is the case there is no justice. There’s no rules, everything is thrown out the window. It’s a travesty that law enforcement were allowed to conduct themselves in this manner and use people like this, because although Ricks case has received all the publicity, there’s likely been a bunch of situations like his that we just haven’t heard about.
DD: Why did you personally want to bring this story to the screen?
SF: I started corresponding with Rick when he got kicked out of the federal witness protection program in 2005. I was in the feds and had heard a lot about him. I wrote about gangsters, so obviously I was intrigued when I heard his story. Who was this White teenager that was allegedly running Detroit’s Black underworld? It seemed unbelievable to me and fascinating at the same time. When we started writing back and forth, from prison to prison, he was telling me all the stuff: how he was recruited by the FBI and how they gave him money, fake ID, drugs, and financed a trip to Vegas for him to watch the Hagler-Hearns fight. The FBI put him on and the other prominent drug dealers of the day bought it, took him in, and embraced him. I just felt it was wrong that he was serving so long in prison, he was a juvenile lifer, and I wanted to do something to get him out. I was already writing about his story, but I felt that moving to the next level with a documentary was the way to put enough pressure on public officials that they had to cop to what happened and let him out. Because, for real, they had him buried and he was never going to see the light of day. Now I feel there’s a chance he goes home soon. If that happens, then it’s mission accomplished.
DD: Is “White Boy” Rick involved with this doc? Have you had any words with him?
SF: I secured his cooperation for the film. I talk to him regularly by email and on the phone. We recorded phone calls from him from prison explaining his story that we use in the film. He has played a very big part in the making of this film. I just got an email from him this morning and he is excited about the premiere. Imagine being in prison, buried by the people you helped, and no one will listen to you or believe you? That was the situation he was in for multiple decades. Pretty crazy if you ask me.
DD: What does it take to get a doc like this done right?
SF: We have been working on this documentary for two years. It started as an idea and an outline on paper. Shawn Rech and his team at Transitions Studios have put together an amazing film. I have worked very closely with Rech and his partner Brandon Kimber, who shot and edited the film, to make sure we got the story right. Because it’s a gangster story, but it’s also a human tragedy story, and a miscarriage of justice story that shows how law enforcement manipulates, uses and throws people away like garbage, all in the name of the “War on Drugs.” We searched for images, we searched for video, we scoured old newspaper articles and news clips. We reached out to and interviewed ex-FBI agents, ex- Detroit police, TV personalities like Chris Hanson, ex-hitmen like Nate “Boone” Craft from Best Friends and ex-drug lords like Johnny Curry. Even Johnny Curry, who Rick was gathering intel on, says that Rick should be let out. It took patience and perseverance and hard work to get this doc done right.
DD: Where can folks go to see the doc?
SF: The film is premiering in Detroit in a 1,000-seat theatre today (Friday, March 31). It’s sold out, plus two additional, smaller shows have sold out in Detroit, too. It will be on a major streaming network soon. The details are still being worked out, but my partner at Transitions Studio Shawn Reach has A Murder in the Park on Showtime and Netflix right now, so that might be an option for WHITE BOY. Stay tuned.
DD: Do you think White Boy Rick will be freed?
SF: There’s been a lot of movement on his case and he goes in front of the parole board again in June, so we will see. Nothing is definite in these kind of things, but I believe he will be set free. We have spent a lot of time finding the truth and dispelling the myths and all the false information out there, but it’s looking good. Especially with the the Matthew McConaughey Hollywood version of the White Boy Rick story filming now, too. This story and case is becoming super-visible and that can only work to Rick’s benefit.
DD: What do you think White Boy Rick’s lasting legacy will be?
I think Rick will be seen as the poster child for whats wrong with the “War on Drugs.” All the dirty little secrets are starting to filter out and our country and the world is seeing the systematic injustices that have been built into this colossal criminal justice machinery. His story is a perfect example of what can happen when you have overzealous narcotic cops who are willing to make a bust by any means necessary. It also shows how the media can take something and run with it. Rick was never a drug kingpin, yet the media refers to him as one all the time. He was getting kilos, but he was a small time hustler. If you read the papers about him, you would think he was Pablo Escobar Jr. or something.
Check out more info on the film at www.whiteboyfilm.com!