These days we know Mark Wahlberg as an A-list action movie star known for films like "Lone Survivor" and "The Perfect Storm," or in comedic roles conversing with a real live teddy bear.
But before stardom, Walhlberg was something else: a criminal, making life hell for African Americans and immigrants on Dorchester’s racially divided streets. Wahlberg is looking to be pardoned for his crimes, but one man has suggested a novel way he might make amends.
The list of Wahlberg’s offenses is not inconsequential. At 16, during an attempted robbery, he pummeled a Vietnamese man with a wooden stick and knocked him unconscious. Later the same day in 1988, he punched another immigrant from Vietnam and allegedly peppered him with a racially derogatory term directed at Asians.
“Gook—just like the N-word. But the G-word is for us,” said Nam Pham, a leader in Dorchester’s 8,000-strong Vietnamese community, who is all too familiar with the term.
“I first came to Dorchester’s Field’s Corner in 1981, and once in a while I would run into people who would tell to my face, ‘go home gook’" Pham said. "It was very common.”
Common indeed. Driving through Fields Corner in a pouring rain, author Michael Patrick MacDonald says violent attacks against people of color in Wahlberg’s Dorchester was just kind of the way it was in the 1970s and '80s.
“That kind of threat that people lived under existed all the way back to the busing time, when busing first happened," McDonald said. And a lot of people in this neighborhood were being threatened.”
As an example, MacDonald, who wrote a memoir focused on racial violence, pointed to an infamous incident.
“The street we’re passing now in Dorchester, this is where the first black family moved into St. Mark's parish and they were firebombed. “
This was the racial atmosphere in which Wahlberg came of age in Dorchester.
He pled guilty to the 1988 assault on Hoa "Johnny" Trinh. He was sentenced to two years but served only 45 days. A few years later, his life took a dramatic turn, turning singing stardom as Marky Mark to movie stardom. And now Wahlberg is trying to erase his past. He applied for an unconditional pardon in 2014. Gov. Deval Patrick declined to act on it. Now it’s up to Gov. Charlie Baker, who told me recently “I don’t have plans to pardon Mark Wahlberg.”
Baker met with Wahlberg a few weeks ago to discuss upcoming production on a movie about the Boston Marathon bombings. His office says the pardon was not raised. It is a process that generally begins with the Governor’s Council and at least one member, Mike Albano, is on board.
"The interesting part about this one is if his name was Mark Smith, this would not be controversial at all," Albano said. "He was a youthful offender. He served his time. if you look at his record, the contributions he's made back to the community with veterans and young people, he’s a perfect fit for a pardon.”
And Pham, whose own life took a dramatic turn from abused immigrant in 1981 to the head of VietAid in Dorchester and now, Assistant Secretary of Business Development in the Baker administration, has come up with a novel way that Wahlberg can repay his debt.
“He’s a big movie star," he said. "We all believe in [a] second chance. Perhaps he can make a movie talking about race”
Here’s the pitch:
“A man from Dorchester who was a troublemaker and now trying to make things better for everybody,” explained Pham. “A movie that would embrace the concept of brotherhood, of living together, making our neighborhood a much better place, I think that would be a wonderful thing to do.”
Boston Globe movie critic Ty Burr has reviewed many a Wahlberg film. I asked him what he thought of Pham’s very serious idea for a Wahlberg movie project exploring his racially fraught coming of age.
“I think it's a fascinating idea that has never been done and probably won't be done because just because of the logistics of getting a movie made,” Burr said. “Essentially you’re asking Wahlberg to do community service by way of a Hollywood film, which is a fascinating idea. I’m amazed that no one has really thought of it before. I would love to see such a movie.”
WGBH attempted to reach Wahlberg through his agent and publicist with no luck.
In Fields Corner today, communities of Vietnamese live and work alongside blacks, Latinos and gentrified whites, and not always in harmony. Pham believes that a Wahlberg film on the life Walhlberg led in Dorchester might just help change the way people relate to one another and serve as a lesson to moviegoers, including young kids, that beating someone up because of who they are didn’t cut then and doesn’t cut it now.