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ESPN film 'Benji' tries to inspire change

CHICAGO -- Beyond the expectations of fame that any artist carries with him, Chicago-born director Coodie Simmons has one prevailing goal for his documentary on the late Ben Wilson.

"Our whole thing was we wanted to make thugs cry," said Simmons, who co-directed the movie with his partner, Chike Ozah. "You know what I'm saying?

"They say these kids today are immune to death, but that was a greater death. It was something really powerful for Ben Wilson to die."

Thugs, basketball players, teenagers and suburban mothers who have never heard of Wilson, the archetypal star who died too young, all will cry during the 78-minute movie "Benji," which will premiere on ESPN on Oct. 23 as part of the award-winning "30 for 30" documentary series.

Maybe they'll cry when former NBA star Nick Anderson loses it talking about his friend, or maybe when they see footage of students bawling at Simeon just hours after his death in 1984. Maybe they'll cry with joy a few times, too. I believe a lot of tears will be shed when this movie premieres. But mostly I think Ben Wilson's name, as they say nowadays in the Twitter world, will be trending far beyond the borders of the South Side of Chicago.

After a Nike-sponsored partial screening of "Benji" and a panel discussion last week at Simeon Career Academy, I watched the entire movie that evening at home. It was, as expected, very powerful, a universal tragedy story, a life lost before it really began. It's also a story of Chicago in the 1980s, with stirring interviews.

To read the rest, check it out here on ESPNChicago.com.