Voice from prison: New documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal to screen here
Mumia Abu-Jamal currently is serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia, Pa., police officer. He maintains his innocence, and still seeks his freedom. In February, his legal team filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, requesting it overturn an August 2012 lower court ruling resentencing Abu-Jamal to life in prison without parole. In 2012, a death sentence against Abu-Jamal was overturned.
He has co-authored several books from prison – “Live from Death Row,” “All Things Censored” and “We Want Freedom” (the latter a history of the Black Panther Party).
A new documentary from director Stephen Vittoria focuses on Abu-Jamal’s pre-prison and current work as a reporter and writer. The film will be screened Monday and Tuesday at The Carolina Theatre of Durham. The Tuesday showing will be followed by a panel discussion. Panelists will include members of the filmmaking team, along with Keith Cook, former member of the Orange County School Board, who is Abu-Jamal's brother; and Jamal Hart, Abu-Jamal's son.
Using extensive archival footage, as well as tapes from Abu-Jamal’s radio broadcasts in his native Philadelphia, Vittoria traces Abu-Jamal’s radicalization and subsequent writing and broadcasting. Stunned by the tactics of then Philadelphia Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, Abu-Jamal, still in his teens, became a founding member of Philadelphia’s Black Panther Party, where he also wrote for the party newspaper.
In the 1970s, he began working in broadcasting. He turned down a television job when news directors insisted he cut his dreadlocks, but he was heard on many regional black radio stations. He won awards, but eventually his approach to his coverage of the conflict between Rizzo and the MOVE organization created friction with his editors.
In addition to his books, Abu-Jamal also has produced radio broadcasts from prison. In 1995, National Public Radio planned to broadcast his commentaries, but bowed to political pressure and never aired them. The radio show “Democracy Now” eventually aired his commentaries, some of which are excerpted in this film.
Vittoria includes extensive interviews from Abu-Jamal’s supporters — including his sister Lydia Barashango, professor Cornel West, Angela Davis, author Alice Walker, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, radio journalist Amy Goodman, and more. Philadelphia residents who do not share their adoration for Abu-Jamal also get to voice their criticisms – chiefly that Abu-Jamal is a pawn in the hands of radical chic Hollywood leaders.
Besides being a portrait of Abu-Jamal, Vittoria’s film examines that life in the context of free speech, the “prison-industrial complex,” and the continuing struggle toward equality in the United States.
Go and Do
WHAT: Screening of “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal”
WHEN: Monday, 7 p.m. and 9:20 p.m.; and Tuesday 7 p.m.
WHERE: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St.
ADMISSION: Tickets are $9
ALSO: The Tuesday showing will be followed by a panel discussion. Panelists will include members of the filmmaking team, along with Keith Cook, former member of the Orange County School Board and Abu-Jamal's brother; and Jamal Hart, Abu-Jamal's son.