Published April 17, 2019
Lake Champlain Weekly
By Joshua Miner
So often, the stories of male sexual abuse are neglected and forgotten. Whether from a sense of lost masculinity, shame, or because they feel their stories won’t be believed, men are often reluctant to speak up about their own abuse.
“Talk about silence,” says Heart, Baby! director Angela Shelton. “The women [might] remain silent, but the men are totally silent. Not only is it embarrassing just because it makes you feel disgusting and unwanted, but as a man it attacks the masculinity. It runs deep.”
A survivor of abuse herself, Shelton has long been an advocate for survivors of sexual assault. A chance meeting with Doc would prove to be the perfect springboard for Shelton to give a voice to this often-marginalized segment of society. Staying at Doc’s house while in New York City for a prison reform conference, Shelton would soon hear a tale that just had to be immortalized in film.
“Well, let me tell you about my best friend,” Shelton recalls Doc telling her that night, as he opened up about the untold tale of George Lee Martin.
Martin and Doc met in met in Memphis, Tennessee at reform school and instantly became friends. The two would be inseparable, continuing their friendship years later when they were reunited in 1978 in prison, both serving life sentences. Being falsely arrested first for stealing a purse, and then later for actually stealing a bike, George would be given his third strike at the age of 18 for breaking into a home.
Overcoming sexual abuse and the dangerous life of a prisoner, Martin overcame every obstacle set before him as he tirelessly trained his mind and body. In “Heart, Baby!”, Shelton explores the undying friendship of Martin and Andy “Doc” Dixon, and the road that would lead to Marin’s shot at the gold in the 1984 Olympic Games.
While serving his 40 years, he would learn the guard who abused him as a child would be caught and sentenced to only four years for the rapes of 27 other children.
Adding even more fuel to the fire that burned within him, Martin would go undefeated in all his prison boxing matches. To show off his superior fighter, the warden would arrange a match between the former heavyweight champion of the world John Tate, before his match to regain the title with Larry Holmes. Martin knocked him out effortlessly. The match was covered up by Tate’s boxing team, leaving only those in attendance that day knowing who the real champion was. Tate would never be the same, cancelling his upcoming match as a result.
“It ruined John Tate’s career. If you look at a timeline of his on Wikipedia, you’re like ‘Huh, I wonder what happened?’ Well what happened is he went into prison and fought George, and George messed his head up. His manager and his agent did not want that out. He was never here,” Shelton said Tate’s team would claim. “So only 300 people witnessed that.”
In the wake of his victory, George would be offered his freedom, in exchange for his participation in the 1984 Olympics. He would shock everyone by refusing the deal, instead remaining in prison.
“He tells me the story that George turned down the Olympics, and then he told me why and I start crying,” Shelton recalls. “In the end, George ended up staying in prison, and he got sick. They let him have a compassionate release in 1993 and that was the last time Andy had seen him. He got out of prison, and he died. And we’re all crying. I was like, oh my God, this has to be a movie.”
Doc agreed, selling his life rights to Shelton, saying she was the only person he trusted to tell the story the way it should be told. In searching for Martin’s death certificate, however, they would be shocked to learn there wasn’t one. The film would add another chapter to the story of George and Doc, and their everlasting friendship.
A story of struggle, perseverance and triumph, “Heart, Baby!” doesn’t pull any punches in its retelling of the shocking story of the two friends. Brutal in its honesty, Shelton forces the audience to take a look at their own lives and challenge everything they thought they knew about love and forgiveness. She sees those revelations in the faces of everyone who watches the film, as people leave the theater with a newfound awareness of life and what it means to be human.
“There’s just something profound about it, even beyond me,” she says of the tale. “I don’t take responsibility for it. I was in service to the story. I was a messenger. I really feel that the movie now belongs to the people. What are you going to do with it? How are you going to take that to your church? How are you going to take that to your community? How are you going to change things?”
Shelton hopes the story of George Lee Martin will serve as an inspiration for abuse survivors everywhere. Through the movie’s stark look at assault, the film serves to remove the stereotypes surrounding male sexual abuse.
“It [helps] relieve some of the stigma. Male survivors don’t want to come forward because they feel less than manly. And here’s fricking George Lee Martin, he’s technically the heavyweight champion of the world.”
The screening of “Heart, Baby!” will be held at the Strand Theatre Friday, April 26 at 8 p.m. Local businesses have donated a variety of gifts to be auctioned off, with all proceeds to benefit the Clinton County Child Advocacy Center. Shelton will be taking questions following the film, giving the audience a chance to explore the many issues the film addresses. Tickets are $15, and can be ordered at standcenter.org or by calling the box office at (518)-563-1604 (ext. 105).