Movie Review: ‘Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary,’ About Mumia Abu-Jamal

February 1st, 2013

Lou Jones/First Run Features

Mumia Abu-Jamal in the documentary “Mumia.”

Coverage of public discourse in the United States often makes it seem as if the only ideologies still in the game were the far right and the moderate everybody else. But “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary,” a documentary by Stephen Vittoria, is proof that there are still outspoken champions of views too radicalized to qualify as left-wing: people distrustful of law enforcement, the political system, the justice system, the news media and the very notion that America is at heart the land of the free.

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That isn’t the film’s intent, of course. Mr. Vittoria sets out to tell once again the story of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer more than 30 years ago, and to highlight the considerable writing he has done in prison over the decades. From that standpoint the film will appeal to one side of that polarizing case — the side that views Mr. Abu-Jamal as a political prisoner and victim of a racist system — and enrage the other.

The samples of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s writings aren’t generous enough to establish whether his is a singular voice or just a prolific one, with Mr. Vittoria instead letting the film wander considerably, to Frederick Douglass and recent American bombings overseas and everything in between.

But getting a concentrated dose of activists like Angela Davis and Dick Gregory, academics like Cornel West and Michelle Alexander, and the many other talking heads in this film is certainly a bracing change from the usual back-and-forth of the evening news.

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