Philadelphia — In one of many milestones in the decades-long movement to free political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, the documentary film “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal” opened at the Ritz at the Bourse, a Landmark theater, on May 3 for a six-day run. Film director and producer Stephen Vittoria and co-producer Noelle Hanrahan, of Prison Radio, were on hand to answer questions after film showings on May 3 and 4.
Opening to favorable reviews from many film critics, the movie also earned the distinction of being rated, based on audience turnout, the number one documentary in Philadelphia, performing 80 percent better than any other documentary. As a result, it will be held over for another week.
Accused of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, Abu-Jamal, after nearly three decades on death row, is currently confined in general population at Pennsylvania’s SCI Mahanoy prison where he is serving a life sentence without a chance for parole. Global efforts continue to win his release.
Hanrahan told Workers World, “While there is a lot of work to be done in Philadelphia around Abu-Jamal’s case, having this film shown here was very significant. We have redefined how the press is treating Mumia. This is a major step forward toward breaking down censorship.”
Several recent reviews in local and national media support this claim. One of the more favorable reviews appeared in the May issue of Ebony.com and another in the May 1 issue of the Washington Post written by Eisa Nefertari Ulen: “Many forget, and schoolchildren rarely learn, that, at the height of their activism, King, Mandela, and Ghandi were all considered threats to the state. Imprisoned for passionate, dedicated activism that would subvert the social systems that suppressed brown people in the countries where they lived, each was labeled terms akin to terrorist by government, law enforcement, even ordinary citizens.”
Even a less-than-favorable article on the film written by Karen Heller for the Philadelphia Inquirer described “Long Distance Revolutionary” as “a war documentary, the war between Abu-Jamal and the Philadelphia Police Department, especially Frank Rizzo. Abu-Jamal says one of his seminal experiences was being beaten by cops at age 15: ‘I always said thank you to the cop because he kicked me all the way to the Black Panther Party.’” (May 5)
Philadelphia Metro reviewer Matt Prigge notes that the film “fills in much that is missing in the public view of Mumia’s life and work. The film places him in the history of the black power movement, portraying him as a peaceful but forceful activist.” (Metro.com, May 2)
While Heller and Prigge were quick to criticize Vittoria’s film for being short on details about the Dec. 9, 1981, murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner or Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial, these corporate “news” sources never bothered to review earlier documentaries on the case, including the 1996 HBO film, “Mumia Abu Jamal: Case for Reasonable Doubt,” that raised serious questions about the state’s handling of Abu-Jamal’s arrest, trial and conviction.
Most articles that have appeared in the corporate media concerning Abu-Jamal’s case always inserted the label “cop-killer” immediately after his name. Hanrahan stated, “The reviews are not using the term ‘cop-killer.’ The film has forced them to at least acknowledge that there are open questions concerning this case. This is just a beginning, and we have a lot of work to do, but this showing in Philadelphia opens opportunities.”