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Alcatraz Is Not an Island (2001)


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Credited cast:
Himself - Narrator
Richard Oakes ...


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24 January 2001 (USA)  »

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Genuinely moving documentary
21 November 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

When he was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow, Adolf Hitler said, "I don't know why you Americans are making such a fuss about the Jews. We're only doing to the Jews what you did to the Indians." Alas, he had a point. "Alcatraz Is Not an Island" is a genuinely moving documentary that vividly chronicles one battle in the long struggle between white Americans and Native Americans that arose from a forced assimilation policy called "relocation and termination," imposed in the early 1950's, under which entire tribes would essentially be "disappeared" from their historic recognition as sovereign nations and their members — the ones that had survived after the genocidal anti-Indian wars of the 19th century — thrown into large cities and be forced to live an existence on their own without government help. "Alcatraz Is Not an Island" details the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969-71 by a group of Indians from different tribes who had found each other in San Francisco and built a community center (which burned down under mysterious circumstances shortly before the occupation began) and other infrastructure for mutual support. Its mix of archival footage and new scenes showing the surviving occupiers as they were in the late 1990's is moving, and Richard Oakes — who wasn't the "leader" per se of the occupation but was elected as its spokesperson — emerges as a truly tragic figure worthy of treatment in a dramatic film (if Joaquin Phoenix is looking for a follow-up to his star turn as Johnny Cash he need look no further).

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