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Some knew Paige had gang affiliations. "He was open and honest about it," says Fuqua, who added that the young man had talked with him about wanting to get out of the street life.
Paige says Wesley Snipes advised him to vote, and Michael Kenneth Williams, who played the character "Omar" on The Wire, told him that it was important, as a young black actor, to keep from being pigeonholed into gangster roles.
Ethan Hawke remembers Paige, too, as a talented young man who led a very tough life. "He had five bullet wounds on his body," he tells the Voice.
During the course of the filming, Paige had a court date coming up—the case resulted in a misdemeanor possession conviction—and it became an issue for Fuqua, since it threatened the young man's ability to keep shooting the film. Johnson says the producers wrote letters in support of Paige. Older actors, like Cheadle, sat with him in his trailer and counseled him to make the court date. The court appearance was such a frequent topic of discussion that Cheadle inserted it into the storyline of the film. In an early scene in a parking lot, Cheadle's undercover cop throws his arm around Man Man and says, "You know you're going to make that court date, right?"
"It was really sincere," says Johnson. "He was sincerely asking him to make it." Johnson adds that the thought of losing his chance to be in the film consumed Paige that summer. "He was walking on eggshells. He was like, 'Dang, what a fine time to be in trouble! How much bad energy did I put into the damn world, to be able to be in the movie of a lifetime. . . . How much bad luck does one dude have?' "
If the shooting of Brooklyn's Finest was the biggest thing to have happened in Paige's life, it was also remarkable for Brownsville itself. Lisa Kenna, the fierce and motherly tenants' association president of the Van Dyke Houses, recalls seeing elderly people she had never even met come out of their apartments to ogle Richard Gere. Young men who weren't in the film—like Paige's murder accomplice, Robert Crawford, would come around just to hang out. Kenna arranged everything so that local members of the Nation of Islam would be handling security, and she talked with the producers and Eastman about hiring locals: Fuqua ended up hiring more than 100 people from the neighborhood. For the first time in a long time, Kenna says, Van Dyke residents felt special, like someone was paying attention. Kenna had a bit part in the film, too; she played a sobbing mother, distraught after a local boy was shot by a cop. That summer, the director even started a small program that taught local kids to handle cameras and shoot film. After a while, though, the illusion wore off, Kenna says. When she finally saw the movie when it was released wide in March 2010, she was disturbed by the portrayal of the neighborhood: the same old shoot-'em-up violence, gangs, and drugs.
"It was corny," another local resident, Betty Weaves, tells the Voice. Of the many drug dens featured on the film: "I've lived here for 50 years and I've never seen an apartment like that," she says.
If the locals were mostly happy, the 73rd Precinct was decidedly not. When the film came out, the NYPD wasn't amused about being shown in such a bad light. But some officers say they were grateful for the way the film showed the real pressures on them.
In the months after the shooting of his scenes, Paige was flooded with new opportunities.
He was flown to Los Angeles, where he attended a BET event, met boxer Floyd Mayweather, and was on set for the filming of the T-Pain and Lil Wayne video, "Can't Believe It." There, he was introduced to producers. "I was just trying to get in everywhere and promote myself," Paige says. "That just opened up so many doors for me to get into a whole different thing. I wasn't just thinking about the acting."
Two weeks later, Paige flew back to Brooklyn with scripts in hand. Back at home, he became a sort of "pseudo-celebrity," says a source within the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. Wint testified during the trial that he wanted to hang out with Paige because he was very powerful and because many people thought he was on track to become a famous movie star.
But Paige's relationship with the 73rd Precinct also heated up. On August 16, he was arrested for gun and drug possession at the Strauss Street house. A week later, say the Paige family and Paige's attorney, Gary Farrell, Internal Affairs Bureau officers arrived to interview the family about a complaint they had made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, but the officers ended up arresting Ayeni and a friend of Paige's she had adopted. Paige himself fled by jumping from a second-story window. Charges against Ayeni were later dropped, and she has filed a civil rights lawsuit in Brooklyn Supreme Court over the incident, which she describes as a complete ransacking of her home.