The movie star, who plays a black director victimised by a racist cop (Matt Dillon) in the hard-hitting drama, still recalls the incident, when he was three, that cost his father his freedom - after a bigot took exception to the fact that his mixed race dad had a black wife and three black sons.
Howard reveals the towering thug mistook his father for a white man while they were standing in line to see Santa in a department store, and took exception to the fact he wasn't.
The actor recalls, "The next thing you know this guy has picked up my father by the throat from behind and takes him over to the wall and has my father pinned up on the wall, like a ragdoll, strangling my father.
"I'm sitting there screaming with my brothers... `Get off of my father.'
"After the man had kneed him in his groin enough times to where blood was streaming down his leg, my father finally grabbed something and started sticking (stabbing) the man trying to get him to let him go.
"The man collapsed and my father's screaming, `Please don't die, please don't die.' The police come (sic) and took my father away."
Unfortunately, the man did die as a result of the Santa line fight, and Howard's young life was turned upside down when his father went to prison.
"My father was an insurance salesman at the time and we lived in the suburbs but when my father went to prison we were forced to move into the projects, which subjected us to more racism because here I am, this light-skinned, green-eyed kid in the middle of the projects in 1970."