Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another Take On Mumia

Sickened by this sloppy article, I wrote a response to the Philadelphia Inquirer, that not surprisingly went un-published. I also wanted to contact the reporter directly, but discovered through a friend at the Inquirer that the guy was a "freelance" reporter. What a shock. Wasn't Mumia a "freelance" writer too?

Dear Inquirer Editor,

I read, with disgust, the article concerning the latest in a long string of pro-Mumia documentaries. I write this as I am reminded of the aesthetically beautiful, but nevertheless pro-Nazi work of Hitler's film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl. Like the movement to free Mumia itself, we have yet another slickly produced, factually deficient, symbol over substance, propaganda piece that plays upon the emotions of the audience while it delivers a product that is explicitly designed to obscure the obvious fact that Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

William Cook, Muima’s brother, is interviewed in the film and claims that he will not tell what happened until his is in "court". What is not mentioned is that he had two chances to tell his side of the story in "court". During the trial in 1982 and during the PCRA hearings in 1995. Nor is it mentioned that William Cook did provide an affidavit several years back, but interestingly enough, it contradicted that of his own brother, Mumia. By all accounts, William Cook would have been the closest witness to the murder of Officer Faulkner. The fact that his first words to arriving Officers was "I ain't got nothing to do with it", speak much louder than all of the pro-Jamal propaganda as put forth in the film. He could have exonerated Jamal at that very moment. He did not. The only rational explanation is that he knew then and knows now that Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner.

Another fact not discussed in the article is the fact that Amnesty International's report on the case, has proven itself to be decidedly pro-Mumia, and grotesquely inaccurate as to the details of the case. These factual deficiencies have been noted at

Amnesty International tarnished it's reputation by authoring a political screed that elevated a murderer and negated the sacrifice of a man who gave his life in the pursuit of justice. This, so that Amnesty International could pander to a band of radicals and pusue the human right's group's own anti-death penalty position.It is rather telling that the film so heavily concentrates upon this nations obviously complicated history. I would argue that if William Francome, the "star" of the film or those who are ultimately responsible for it, believed that the facts supported their agenda that they would have placed a much stronger emphasis upon chronicling their facts.

That they would choose to put Snoop Dog, a known advocate for criminals and Noam Chomsky, who is a prolific writer, and a political ideologue, but has never wrote anything of significance regarding Jamal's case, shows that the film makers only wanted those who would tow the party line for Mumia, while barely acknowledging that there is another side to this issue.

On a personal note, I contacted Francome some time ago regarding the issue of how those who oppose the Jamal movement were portrayed. He claimed to have known of my work as an anti-Mumia blooger, who spent an unfortunate decade as a Mumia devotee, but didn't think to ask me to speak on his film. I don't write this out of some kind of arrogance or of a bruised ego, but rather to show that his claims of attempting to get someone who is not a fan of Mumia to speak is very likely disingenuous. Perhaps, if he spent some time in Philadelphia speaking with people other than the MOVE cult, he would have very easy found that a vast majority of Philadelphians are not part of the cop-killer fan club that William Francome might very well be the president of.

Tony Allen

(Officer Faulkner victimized yet again)
Sundance screens a film by one obsessed with Abu-Jamal.

By Sam Adams

PARK CITY, Utah - When the lights come up after a film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the stage usually fills with directors and producers, actors and crew, all basking in the audience's applause.

But after Sunday's screening of In Prison My Whole Life, director Marc Evans apologized for the absence of the movie's "star": Mumia Abu-Jamal, on Pennsylvania's death row for the 1981 killing of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal is unquestionably the subject of the documentary, but as far as on-screen time goes, he plays a supporting role to 26-year-old William Francome, the "my" of the movie's title.
Francome said he was born on Dec. 9, 1981, the day that Abu-Jamal was arrested for Faulkner's murder. In Prison uses that coincidence to underscore the length of time Abu-Jamal has spent behind bars, most of it on death row - a circumstance the movie condemns as inhumane and unjust.

Francome appears as a cross between a crusading journalist, tracking down evidence to contradict the prosecution's case, and a wide-eyed student avidly pursuing the history of American racism.

The result is largely a recap of arguments for Abu-Jamal's retrial or exoneration and a broad overview of the history of American dissent.

Held together by Francome's narration, the movie oscillates between arguing the injustice of Jamal's case and charting Francome's education in the ugly side of American history.
Through interviews with the likes of Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky, In Prison attempts to place Abu-Jamal's case within a larger social context. The 1985 MOVE bombing and the 1987 videotape in which a Philadelphia prosecutor instructs young colleagues on how to keep African Americans off juries are part of the film's background. So are the FBI's Cointelpro program and Hurricane Katrina.

"I think it's part of a narrative," Francome says. "We could have made a film that was just purely about the case and looked into every single detail, but we've got 90 minutes to tell a story, and at the same time we're trying to make an entertaining film. I think we're making valid connections between certain issues."

Although the Sundance screening was not met with the rapturous whoops and standing ovations that greet the festival's instant hits, it was clear that at least some in the audience had no difficulty connecting Jamal's case and larger issues of racism, the death penalty and government corruption.

Sundance's audiences are well-known for their liberal bent, and its documentary programming tends to favor issue-oriented films. During the post-screening Q and A, one questioner asked if Abu-Jamal's bid for a new trial, currently awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, would be rejected because "the consequences might be too huge to allow that to happen."

The British-born Francome, son of a British father and an American mother, describes his mother as a product of the '60s counterculture, and says she reminded him that each birthday he celebrated meant Abu-Jamal had spent another year in jail. But it wasn't until he was a teenager and heard Rage Against the Machine take up Abu-Jamal's cause that Francome connected the dots. "It was like, 'Hey, that's that Mumia guy mum's always talking about,' " he recalls in the film.

In his 20s, Francome began writing treatments for a film about the case. Through his girlfriend's godmother, he met Livia Firth, wife of actor Colin Firth, and Colin offered to produce the film and introduced him to Evans, an established feature and documentary director.
Firth also got in touch with Amnesty International's Piers Bannister, who had written a 35-page report condemning Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial as failing to meet "minimum international standards." Bannister, who appeared at the Sundance screening, shared his research with the filmmakers, and Amnesty vetted the film after it was completed.

"When we finished, we came back and said, 'This is the film. Tell us if we did a good job,' " Firth says. "They tore the film to pieces. They analyzed every single word." In addition to fact-checking the film, Amnesty suggested changes in the wording of Francome's narration to better represent its stance on the case and related issues such as the death penalty. The result, Firth proudly says, is the first film endorsed by Amnesty's secretariat.

In Prison opens with Amnesty's logo, which is followed immediately by the logo for Myspace, which helped finance the film. "Those two badges kind of reflect who the film is for," Evans says.
The question of the film's potential audience, Evans says, greatly influenced its form. Rather than evaluate every claim pro and con, In Prison is pitched at an introductory level.

"The bit of filmmaking I dislike the most is you have to say, 'Here's the film, now who's the audience?' " Evans says. "Is it for a very well-versed insider? Perhaps this isn't the film for them at the end of the day. I don't think the audience the film really appeals to are people who are necessarily politically clued in and have read a lot about their civil rights history. It's a series of inquiries and conversations by a 25-year-old, starting with a teenage obsession."

Crisscrossing the country, Francome pounds the streets looking for the truth of what happened on the night he was born. He talks to the authors of several books critical of Abu-Jamal's trial. He meets with photographer Pedro Polakoff, whose photos of the crime scene seem to show a police officer handling Faulkner's and Abu-Jamal's guns with his bare hands. And he interviews William Cook, Abu-Jamal's brother, who says that Faulkner addressed him with a racial slur and began beating him, unprovoked, in the moments before the shooting. Cook does not, however, discuss what happened next, and says he will do so only in a court of law.

Conspicuous by their absence are Faulkner's supporters, or any evidence that might weaken the movie's claims, like the fact that Cook was convicted of assaulting Faulkner. The sole argument in favor of Abu-Jamal's conviction is made by prosecutor Joseph McGill, who appears in excerpts from the 1996 documentary Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt? (When citing the film, In Prison omits the question mark.) Francome says attempts were made to contact McGill, representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, and, through the FOP, Faulkner's widow, Maureen, and no responses were received. But Evans also says that they pursued advocates for Abu-Jamal's incarceration and execution only "up to a point."
"We're making a film that starts from a particular point of view, with a particular interest," Evans says. "To me, the proper way to proceed is to invite people to the table, and respond when people come to the table. Not to go, 'The film I'm making is so responsible for the truth.' It's not a journalistic film in that sense."

The film contains a handful of factual errors which, while evidently below the radar of Amnesty's fact-checkers, could damage its credibility with Philadelphia audiences. City Council president Anna Verna is referred to as "Ann," and the neighborhood of Powelton Village is referred to as "a suburb of Philadelphia."

Evans knows that Abu-Jamal's case raises heated emotions in the city, and that the battle between "Free Mumia" and "Fry Mumia" factions leads many to tune out the case altogether. That, he says, only heightened his curiosity.

"For us, coming in from the outside, the fact that people are so fed up with hearing about it, the fact that it gets people so riled up, that in itself is interesting. The fact that this guy can raise so much hatred or so much empathy . . . I find that absolutely fascinating."


At 4:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So much for Sundance...fools led by fooled fools

jon pisano

At 5:53 PM , Blogger Tony Allen said...

A couple things did come out of the whole "Sundance" debacle.

The film won no award, barely got any mention in the coverage of the film festival, and from what I heard, the audience was not even that enthused for the film.

Almost as bad as the film, is this lazily written article, by some hack reporter.

I send a letter to the Inquirer which probably wont run it and will likely publish it hear in the next few days.

At 11:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Mumia Abu-Jamal article is currently a featured article candidate on the English Wikipedia:

At 6:37 PM , Blogger Tony Allen said...

I don't know why anyone would want to publish that article anywhere except for as an example of poor journalism. Everytime I look at it I find something else wrong with it. And I am sure when I see the film, I am quite sure that I will find more than just a few factual errors.


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