Mumia Abu-Jamal was a journalist for the Black Panther newspaper, an NPR correspondent, and the voice by which you'd most likely prefer to be read to sleep. But the activist, journalist, and father of three was convicted in 1982 of killing a police officer in Philadelphia and has spent 30 years on death row.
This documentary is not an examination of the circumstances of Abu-Jamal's conviction—if you're looking for the juicy details, or a hot back-and-forth between factions for and against, you'll have to find another movie. This film implies that Abu-Jamal's innocence or guilt should be viewed in the context of racial politics, but more importantly, that his culpability is a moot point.
It's a compelling case to look at justice and the practice of journalism in America with a little skepticism. Abu-Jamal's story has been spun wildly. Philly hates Abu-Jamal. France loves Abu-Jamal. He's a cop killer or a revolutionary. The state would keep him silent, as if death row weren't enough of a gag. And yet, working with whatever constitutional protections still apply to a convicted murderer, Abu-Jamal churns out criticism on a weekly basis, is published more widely than most working journalists, and has written several books (by hand).
Film and audio of Abu-Jamal is electrifying, but in between are weird cartoons and live-action dramatizations of his writings. This is no primer on black power, the history of journalistic practice, or the prison- industrial complex. Viewers who read up a little beforehand on the case will have a better chance of navigating all the context the filmmakers take for granted. They'll also have more time to confront the idea that Abu-Jamal's indictment and stacked trial are themselves endorsement of his writings, and to question whether his unflinchingly honest journalism is somehow compromised if he is guilty.