Thursday, April 17, 2008

Will Tigre Hill Get Mumia Right?

(Picture Of Tigre Hill)

Arguably, the most effective medium for supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal after the internet, must be that of the documentary.

Whether it be the clear-cut propaganda produced by the Marxist “People’s Video Network”, or the slickly produced film that aired on HBO, “A Case For Reasonable Doubt”, Mumia’s supporters have effectively used airwaves and now the world of You Tube to spread the message of Mumia’s innocence throughout the world.

Just this year, another “Free Mumia” film “In Prison My Whole Life” was featured at Sundance Film Festival and had openings throughout Europe and might be distributed in the United States. Produced by British Actor, Colin Firth, the documentary captured the emotion, if not the truth, about the Jamal cause.

As I reported some time ago, there is another Jamal film in the works. This one is being directed by Tigre Hill, a African-American film-maker, who is known for his previous documentary chronicling the Philadelphia mayoral race between Democrat incumbent mayor John Street and Republican Sam Katz. The film titled “Shame Of A City” received strong reviews and took viewers on a tour through the ugly world of Philadelphia politics complete with race-baiting, dirty tricks, thuggery, and to top it off a bug placed in the Mayors Office by the FBI. “Shame of A City” showed Hill to be a capable director not afraid to follow a story to places where others might dare not go. But how will he handle Mumia?

It is without a doubt that Jamal himself is a compelling character for any film and his smooth voice, good looks, and “revolutionary” rhetoric that is delivered in such a way as not to be scary to those who do not totally accept his world view. His story, the one manufactured by Jamal himself and his supporters, not the real story, is one of a racialized David and Goliath. Mumia is cast as the under-dog who takes his fame not his own gain, but as the “voice of the voiceless. He is to be viewed as death-row mystic, whose essays and books from prison serve as window from his world to ours. In many ways, the myth of Mumia takes on a messianic flavor . He was born Wesley Cook, one of thousands of young black men in Philadelphia, but through the turbulence and bigotry he experienced as a youth, he was baptized by violence and “kicked” into the Black Panther Party by racist thugs he claims he was attacked by at a political rally. He was re-born as Mumia and later as Mumia Abu-Jamal after the birth of his son. As the myth goes on, Jamal’s steady voice for the poor and disposed have him at odds with the “system” and the former Panther became a supporter of MOVE, who idolized it’s leader and saw as heros the men and women who killed Officer James Ramp in 1978. The rest you could say is “history”, or rather revisionist history. Those who care to know the truth about Mumia, also know the audacity of the lies that have propelled him to be one of the most well-known prisoners in the world, but that hasn’t stopped many a film-maker to take the myth of Mumia and run with it.

Whether Tigre Hill will be lulled into this alluring, ready made, and oh-so-marketable, story remains to be seen. Media reports have him traveling to the land of “Free Mumia” paradise, France, San Francisco, where there is an official Mumia day, Los Angeles where I marched with thousands at the Democratic National Convention several years ago, Washington, D.C., and New York City, which is now the official home of the Mumia movement as it finally worn out it’s welcome in Philadelphia.

The tentative title of Hill’s Mumia documentary is “The Barrel Of A Gun”, which is obviously a reference to Jamal’s sentencing hearing where he expounded on his political philosophy, with the help of Chairman Mao, who Jamal quoted when he said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, and that American history bore this aphorism out. The title of the film ought to raise some eyebrows as the whole “barrel of a gun” exchange between Jamal and prosecutor Joe McGill has been an issue of contention. Jamal’s supporters have argued that the prosecutors unfairly politicized the trial by bringing Jamal’s use of that quote when he was a 16 year old Black Panther. Could Hill’s film be taking the position that Mumia was a victim of a politicized prosecution, orchestrated by an ambitious District Attorney and the FBI who was continuing a policy of “neutralizing” black radicals? Anything is possible.

Recently, it was reported that Tigre Hill had his “wrap party” for the film. His guests included former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, District Attorney Lynne Abraham, and a slew of media types from around the Philadelphia area. While the guest list may seem to give credence to the idea that Hill’s film may actually break with cinematic tradition and offer a balanced view of the case. However, if you look at the history of how these films and pro-Mumia books have been produced, there is a distinct pattern of those involved playing both sides as a way to obtain un-fettered access. For example, just prior to the airing of the HBO “documentary”, an executive vice president for the cable station flew out to California and told Maureen Faulkner to her face that she “would be very pleased with the finished product”, when he clearly must have known otherwise. One has to wonder if Tigre Hill has said the same thing to those who stand against the Mumia scam..

Given the fact that Tigre Hill has remained mum as to the direction his film is headed and that it is not set for release until December, it looks like we all are going to have to wait and see what the end result is going to be. But, if the past is any indicator of the future, we are in for yet another sequel in the long, pro-Mumia assault on the truth. In the past, these “Free Mumia” films are more so homages to Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films then they are honest attempts to provoke thought and heaven or hell forbid, present the truth minus the political agenda.


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