“He never loved nothing or nobody in his life, ‘less it had a set of fresh tits or a gearshift.” - Tom Cherry

Sins of the Father


(Young Tom kneels by the bathtub and gives Virginia a bath. He gently washes the bruises and scabs on her face from Bobby’s beating, washes her rail-thin arms, her back. She modestly covers herself but he pays no mind. Out of the silence, she speaks. Her drugs have put her in a dream-like state.)

VIRGINIA: You’ll get your learner’s permit soon.

YOUNG TOM : Not for a coupla years, Mama.

VIRGINIA: Won’t be that long. Then we gonna run away together, just the two of us.

(Tom smiles sadly – he’ll play along.)

YOUNG TOM: Where to?

VIRGINIA: Florida. I always wanted to go to them Keys. You can drive down there on this thin little highway, and it’s about as far away as you can get without leaving.

YOUNG TOM : We’ll do that, Mama.

VIRGINIA: And a new house. You’ll build me a new house, with a brand new kitchen and everything. I always wanted a new house.


(She studies his face with love and tenderness. Tears well in her eyes.)

VIRGINIA: And something else – I want you to promise me something else.


VIRGINIA: I don’t want you to grow up like him.

(Tom doesn’t know what to say. Her tears spill down her cheeks.)

VIRGINIA: Every word outa his mouth is a threat. Only time he’s pleased with you is when you’re whupping on somebody. His own Daddy was just like that. I don’t want you to be that way too.

YOUNG TOM: He got his good points. You said so yourself.

VIRGINIA: Honey, that was Fear talking. He’s about as bad a man as they come. He’s gotta prove he’s strong cause he’s really weak, see, and that’s the worst kinda fella there is.(She smiles at him sweetly through her tears.) You’re the strong one. Strong and good. You stay that way.

(A LONG HOLD ON Young Tom – he blinks back tears. His mother’s words have made a strong impression – have stopped him, figuratively, in his tracks.)

The Story

This is the true story of a son’s coming to grips with his father’s murderous past, and his decision to balance the scales of justice.

The Backstory

This was one of those remarkable stories that seemed to kind of write itself. When I first met Tom Cherry and heard the tale of his dawning realization concerning the depth of his father’s involvement in the Birmingham church bombing and the death of four little girls, I was shaken. And it all seemed to come together in this one scene – the moment his dying mother told him not to grow up like his Daddy. Tom had tears in his eyes when he told it to me, and it became the central scene in my script – a scene that was beautifully shot on the very last day of shooting. This was a production experience I had nothing to do with. I was thrilled that Ving Rhames was in it – I had worked with him years before in the Broadway production of my play The Boys of Winter – and hoped to see him again but was unable to be present during the shooting. The resulting film is magnificent, with some phenomenal performances. Tom Cherry was very happy with the result, which made us all happy. I received Humanitas and Writers’ Guild nominations for my script.

Sins of the Father