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Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Voices From Mumia's World

by Esther Iverem
SeeingBlack.com Editor and Film Critic

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Mumia Abu-Jamal is the most visible and controversial inmate on death row. The Philadelphia Police Department and widow of the officer he is convicted of murdering clamor for his execution. A wave of national and international supporters—convinced of the racism of Philadelphia's police and judicial system—demand a new trial and call for his release.

This documentary does a good job of chronicling the events and atmosphere in Philadelphia that led to the conviction of Abu-Jamal, a journalist and former president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Some of its technical aspects, especially the sound, need improvement. Much of the interview with Abu-Jamal, conducted inside a prison visitation area, is inaudible. But as a Black native of the City of Brotherly Love, I appreciate the effort made here to portray the tension and hostility existing between the police department and the city's Black community. Philadelphia's police took a special interest in Black political groups, such as the Black Panthers and, later, the naturalist group MOVE.

When I was a young child, there were vivid news accounts of the police forcing members of the Black Panthers to strip naked and stand spread eagle on a public street not far from my parents' house. As a teenager, and then young adult, I watched as members of MOVE were first evicted from one house and then in 1985 bombed out of another, the latter action resulting in nine deaths and the fiery destruction of dozens of homes.

Abu-Jamal, as well documented in this film, was marked by the federal government and the local police as early as age 15. As a teenager, he wrote for the Black Panther newspaper. When MOVE was in the news, he was one of the few journalists who offered in his dispatches the perspective of MOVE in addition to the perspective of police and government officials.

By focusing on Abu-Jamal's supporters, Voice of the Voiceless delves into myriad of related issues, including the rise of the prison-industrial complex and the disproportionate number of Black men on death row. It has its messy moments but Tania Cuevas-Martinez has the talent to tell a story with force.

Screened at Acapulco Black Film Festival 2001; originally Reviewed in August 2000 at the Urbanworld Film Festival.

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-- June 21, 2001

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