Is John Q a True Story?

Released in late February 2002, ‘John Q’ is a one-of-a-kind thriller drama movie that was directed by Nick Cassavetes, written by James Kearns, and starred Denzel Washington. Even though it premiered almost 2 decades ago, it is still a film that resonates with the audiences, especially the young adults. It chronicles the story of John Quincy Archibald, a father and a husband, who watches his young son collapse while playing baseball and later finds out that he has an enlarged heart and is in desperate need of a transplant.

However, there is one major issue: his HMO insurance won’t cover the costs. At first, John tries to find other ways to save his son’s life, but, ultimately, broken and desperate, he takes matters into his own hands. He picks up a gun, locks down the hospital’s emergency room, takes several hostages, demands his son to be put on the donor list, and threatens to kill the cardiac surgeon. It’s not the best way to get them to agree, but it is also not that hard to believe that a parent would go to such drastic lengths to save their only child’s life. But, did it really happen?

Is John Q Based on a True Story?

No, John Q is not based on a true story.  However, there are certain elements in the film that are clearly inspired from what was going on in the US politics during the time.  The movie was written back in 1993, during the Clinton health-care-reform battle, and so, to highlight its significance, in the film, John and his wife were told by the hospital administration that they either had to pay the expenses or their son would be sent back home without any treatment. While it remains true that a hospital needs to be reimbursed for the services they provide, even to the neediest of individuals, it is never handled in such a manner. And, what’s even better is that with health-care getting more and more importance, at least in some ways, most of us would never find ourselves in such a dire situation.

But, it also remains true that many people still struggle to get insurance coverage, either for certain medical procedures or altogether. Now, though, with the younger generation understanding politics and basic rights more than ever before, the knowledge that health care is a necessity is being spread like wildfire. Although everyone understands that the events that transpired in ‘John Q’ weren’t correct, they still have empathy and they still sympathize with John’s struggles and actions to save his son’s life. We do too. And so, we can safely say that even though it is not something that has happened, it can, and that’s exactly what the writer was trying to point out.

When the film’s commentary track came out, it was revealed that a somewhat similar situation did transpire in Toronto back in 1998. An event that the writer and director weren’t even aware of until the SWAT team advisor for the film told them the story. On New Year’s Eve, Henry Masuka, a 26-year-old, entered the St. Michael’s Hospital’s emergency room in Toronto with his infant son. He demanded to see a pediatrician, but when he was told that no one was on duty and that he had to wait, he pulled out a gun and held it to a doctor’s head. The police were called, and upon their arrival, Henry was shot and killed immediately.

It was later discovered that his gun had been an unloaded pellet gun. His son was uninjured and was able to leave the hospital with his extended family. And, another case happened in 2015, when 23-year-old Brian Randolph from Oakland County, robbed a bank to pay for his daughter’s cancer treatment. There are some obvious, major differences in the stories and how they play out, but the strong need to protect one’s child is a substantial similarity that no one can deny. It’s easy to believe that ‘John Q’ might have been based on a true story, especially with him being perceived as the good guy and the doctors and insurance company as the criminals, but it is not.

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