Incarceration Nation

Long Distance Revolutionary

A Journey With Mumia Abu-Jamal

Film Review by Cliff Connor

A new documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal, Long Distance Revolutionary, has just been released and is showing in theaters around the country. It may seem strange, but the film hardly mentions Mumia’s legal case at all. When asked why, Stephen Vittoria (the filmmaker, who held a question-and-answer session after the showing I attended) replied that Mumia’s case has been the subject of thousands of articles, books, and films, and that he felt there was nothing new he could add to that. So instead, he focused on Mumia himself. That was a good decision, because the film does an excellent job of “humanizing” Mumia. It leaves the audience with a powerful sense that this is essentially a gentle, humane man who is simply not capable of murder, or any kind of brutality. It also serves to demonstrate the significance of Mumia’s journalistic work, both before and after his incarceration.

Most of all, though, it should cause viewers to appreciate how amazing it is that Mumia has been able to retain his humanity—and even a sense of humor—in spite of being in an extremely dehumanizing situation for so many years. The prison system does its best to break the spirit of those it holds behind bars, but in this case it has not succeeded. I doubt that most human beings could retain their sanity for even a tiny fraction of the time Mumia has been in prison. I suspect that in his situation I would have rapidly become paralyzed by bitterness and hostility. By contrast, Mumia has not only survived with his personality intact, but against all odds has produced an incredible body of valuable literary work while in prison.

All of Mumia’s well-wishers will find this documentary exhilarating, but hopefully it will also reach and influence a broader audience.