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In Prison My Whole Life (2007)

7.0
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A look at the life of imprisoned political activist and former Black Panther member, Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose death sentence for killing a police officer was overturned in 2001 due to errors made during his original 1982 sentencing hearing.

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Credited cast:
Mumia Abu-Jamal ...
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Will Francome ...
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Boots Riley ...
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A look at the life of imprisoned political activist and former Black Panther member, Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose death sentence for killing a police officer was overturned in 2001 due to errors made during his original 1982 sentencing hearing.

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23 October 2008 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Sti fylaki oli mou ti zoi  »

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Worrying film that aims to ask questions rather than give answers
28 February 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

It is a bit of an oddity that this criminally under-exposed film remains under the radar. With an Oscar-winning actor as Executive Producer and appearances from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Mos Def and Snoop Dogg, it surprises me that the film never managed to generate any real publicity.

On the surface, the film concerns itself with the case of Mumia Abu Jamal, a former Black Panther, activist and journalist who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia cop and sentenced to death. Detractors of the film have remarked on the information the movie chooses to omit, and some felt cheated out of a clearer understanding of the crime itself. The truth seems to be that there is no clear picture of the crime itself, but this is not the point of the movie.

The film is engaging from the start, with an impressive ability to convincingly create the world in which Mumia grew up. Philadelphia in the '60s and '70s was, by all accounts, a pretty horrifying place to be if you were black. The film makes a concentrated reference to the MOVE atrocities (look it up) in order to support the idea that justice had hugely different definitions depending on the colour of your skin. This might sound like leftist propaganda but then again, if you're not a minority, it's always easy to dismiss and belittle the idea of racial injustice.

The movie's real strength is in the questions it raises about the trial and subsequent conviction of Mumia, following the murder he supposedly committed. The case seems to be full of holes and contradictions and we are forced to consider the strong possibility that another man committed the murder. Given the political connotations of the case and the public anger surrounding it, is it unimaginable that a police force would be more concerned with closing it quickly than with getting it right? Is it inconceivable that an opportunity was seen and seized to remove an educated and "troublesome" black man from general circulation? Is it inconceivable that the trial itself was a farce cultivated to ensure the jurors' return of a guilty verdict in order to appease white public outcry?

I too felt frustrated that the film did not attempt to get to the truth at the heart of the case but, again, I do not believe that to be the point of film. Mumia's guilt or innocence is almost of secondary importance to his right to a fair trial, a right which, it seems, he has been denied for over thirty years now.

To paraphrase Chomsky, if we do not believe in true, fair and equal justice for all, we do not believe in justice at all. This film is not perfect, but it raises universal questions about justice and equality and this makes it essential viewing.


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