What happened to Shane Stant, the hulking 22-year-old who attacked Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994? A moving new documentary, My Hero the Hitman, details his later life as a protector to his younger sister — and his work to put his worst mistake behind him.
The film’s writer-director, Justin Kawika Young was playing a musical gig back home in Hawaii when he first met Maile Stant. She said her brother, 20 years older, had always been there for her, even when their dad was terrifyingly abusive. He sounded to Young like a pretty amazing person. And then Maile Stant mentioned the thing Shane Stant is best known for: being the guy who attacked Kerrigan in a badly misguided attempt to help her rival, Tonya Harding.
Maile was two years old at the time, and got to know her brother when he came home from prison. He moved into a meticulously organized trailer, and began a decades-long quest to rebuild his life.
My Hero the Hitman, Young’s debut film, takes us past the Shane Stant who most people first met via mugshot, and more recently saw depicted as a jittery thug in the Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya. With Maile Stant as our guide, the film presents Shane Stant as a calm, disciplined, fully reformed man who strives to help others. He pleaded guilty in 1994 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison for carrying out the assault, for which one of Harding’s associates paid him a little less than $7,000.
Young says he made sure the film wasn’t “some sort of propaganda piece to rehabilitate his image.”
“One thing that I enjoy about documentaries is when you find yourself changing your mind about something or someone as you go,” Young says in the latest MovieMaker podcast, which you can check out on Repod, Apple, Spotify or above.
“Maile talks in the film about revisiting his past, not as a way to sort of shame him for what he did, but to celebrate how far he came,” Young continues. “We can take the viewer, if they’re skeptical from the beginning, to maybe having a different opinion at the end of the movie.”
My Hero the Hitman addresses the abuse that both Maile and Shane Stant suffered at the hands of their father. And while Shane Stant refuses to use the abuse as an excuse for his own criminal behavior, the film fluidly articulates how he coped with it.
First, he began working out relentlessly — a habit he continues even now, in his 50s — so he would feel strong enough to defend himself and his family. He also learned to bottle up his own rage and then unleash it later— first on people he could justify harming, and later on a completely innocent party, Kerrigan, whose only offense was being a better skater than Tonya Harding.
Kerrigan declined to take part in the documentary, but Shane Stant is unequivocal in acknowledging his guilty and apologizing for the attack.
“I think, to some degree, we sometimes confuse understanding and compassion for excusing someone’s behavior,” Young says. “And we can have compassion for someone and understand what created them to be in a position where they might do something that is wrong, and not excuse it. And I think Shane has found a really way nuanced way to do both of those things in his life.”
In the podcast, Young also talks about how he struck an emotional balance throughout the film, gained the trust of both Maile and Shane Stant, and decided to be honest about the job Shane Stant was doing when they first met. He also talks about why the film was a years-long endeavor, and how his talents came full circle when he ended up providing the film’s music.
My Hero the Hitman is now available on demand, wherever you watch films.
Main image: Shane and Maile Stant in a family photo seen in My Hero the Hitman, directed by Justin Kawika Young.