By Yolande Brener
“There is nothing correctional going on in correctional facilities,” said Mumia Abu-Jamal. “You cannot correct people by putting them in a box and denying them every so-called right that is entitled to every person.”
Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary does not discuss the trial that resulted in Mumia spending the past 30 years in prison and 29 of those in solitary confinement on Death Row. Instead the film covers Mumia’s body of work, including commentary by supporters like Cornel West and Alice Walker.
“I wanted this to be the definitive film on this public intellectual,” said director, Stephen Vittoria. “When you’re out on the edge, on the ledge, as I am with the film, you don’t make it to please people. You tell the best damn story you can. You try to embrace a story that no one else has told.”
This film tells the story of a man who expresses deep compassion and public-mindedness, despite existing in Hellish conditions.
“Most humans would become very chilly under these conditions,” said Cornel West. “But Mumia has done the opposite.”
While in prison, without the benefit of the internet or libraries, Mumia has published seven books, appeared on radio shows and participated in educational seminars. Mumia started his career in journalism at the age of 15, writing for the Black Panther newspaper. Later he worked for NPR, covering local events and the arts in Philadelphia. He won awards including the coveted Armstrong award for a series on the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia.
While in prison, Mumia became the first honorary citizen of France since Picasso. A street in Paris was named after him. There was an outcry about this, as there was when Mumia was to appear on a monthly radio show.
“In 1995 all he had was a contract from NPR to broadcast once a month, that was his commentary on All Things Considered,” said Vittoria. “Bob Dole got on the floor at the US Senate and went absolutely ballistic, threatening to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR.”
In the film, Vittoria also covers the history of Mumia’s home state of Philadelphia.
“I really wanted to give context to the world that Mumia was growing up in and living under and growing up in,” said Vittoria. “It was a police state at the time. The great Orwellian reality is that in the so-called city of brotherly love, the liberty bell is sitting on top of George Washington’s old slave quarters.”
At the time Mumia was growing up, Frank Rizzo, head of the Philadelphia police department, said his police force would make “Atilla the Hun look like a faggot.”
“Mumia sort of got caught up in this whirlwind and here he is,” said Vittoria.
“What I want people to embrace is the idea that there’s another way to think about America and another way to think about the world,” said Vittoria. “If people feel who Mumia is and what he has written about, there is a yellow brick road there to peace and integrity.”
Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary will open in Cinema Village on February 1st.
- The Liberty Bell: Our Patriotic Symbol of Freedom (costumediscounters.com)