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 supportersconvinced of the racism
of Philadelphia's police and judicial systemdemand 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
-- June 21, 2001
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