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The real Antwone Fisher

Writer overcame great obstacles to get film made

By Meriah Doty
CNN

Fisher
Fisher: "Sometimes people need to have some tragedy in their life to be able respect the struggle and path that other people have had in their life."

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(CNN) -- Antwone Fisher doesn't want the film that bears his name to be misunderstood.

Though the lead characters in the movie are black, Fisher says, "It's not a story unique to black people.

"Wherever I was when I was growing up -- foster home, orphanage, reform school, homeless, navy -- there were always other children there and they weren't all black," Fisher points out.

Rather, he says, "Antwone Fisher" -- the film -- is "a human thing and focuses on a problem that society should address."

The problem he speaks of is child abuse.

Fisher reports his earliest memories are of being sexually abused, beaten, tied up and left in a basement for hours, sometimes days. "I thought that there were no good people in the world -- especially adults," he says.

The abuse left him in a state of paranoia: "When I was a kid I thought everyone was after me."

But his story, as told in "Antwone Fisher," starring Derek Luke as Fisher and Denzel Washington as the navy therapist who helps him, is one of triumph trumping tragedy. Washington made his directorial debut with the film, which goes into wide release Friday.

Fisher also told his life story in "Finding Fish: A Memoir," a book he wrote while the film was stalled in development.

"I feel a great sense of accomplishment," Fisher says. "I feel that [my story] was worth telling even though I was ashamed of what my life had been."

Confronting criticism

Not everyone agrees.

A recent Salon.com article accuses Fisher of being "something of a hustler to convince a star of Washington's stature to choose [Fisher's story] for his directing debut."

Luke, Washington
Derek Luke, right, plays Fisher in Denzel Washington's directorial debut. Washington also plays a navy psychiatrist in the film.

The article goes on to say "Antwone Fisher" shows that "movies may be new territory for people who want to flaunt the stories of their horrendous upbringings."

Fisher isn't fazed by the criticism. "Anybody who thinks I've done this to promote myself -- they're not fair and they probably wouldn't be fair to even their own," he says.

He adds, "I think everybody should write about their lives. I don't think people should come to this earth and pass through time and 10 years after they've gone nobody remembers them. What about their thoughts? What about the things that they've been through? Can it assist anyone else? Is it interesting?"

That may be a reason Derek Luke, the 28-year-old actor who plays Fisher in the film, decided to go public with his story of abuse. (Luke tells CNN.com about his struggle with abuse for the first time. Read more.)

Luke and Fisher knew each other well before the film was made. In the late '90s, Fisher was an aspiring screenwriter working as a security guard on the Sony lot and Luke was a struggling actor working in the Sony gift shop. "He may have told me that he was abused even before he got the role because we had been friends long before," says Fisher.

"It's difficult to open yourself up like that because there are all kinds of people in the world who have their own thoughts about things," he says. "I think it's extraordinarily difficult at times. I almost can't explain it."

Though there has been much Oscar buzz surrounding the film, "Fisher" was passed up when nominations for the Golden Globes were announced. Fisher wouldn't mind recognition, but he's not bothered by the lack of nods.

"I have two kids, a wife, a lawnmower and a front yard that needs to be mowed every week," he says.

Besides, there's still the Oscars. Getting one of the Motion Picture Academy statuettes -- or even a nomination -- "would be incredible," he says.

Nevertheless, for Fisher, it's time to move on to something else. The new project? A children's book. Not exactly the kind of thing to rake in a big Hollywood paycheck. That's OK, he laughs. "I'm not doing it to promote myself."



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