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Review: 'Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary' offers skewed view

Filmmaker Stephen Vittoria stacks the deck on behalf of his politically divisive subject, Mumia Abu-Jamal, imprisoned for more than 30 years for the slaying of a Philadelphia police officer.

February 28, 2013|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Mumia Abu-Jamal from the documentary "Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal."
Mumia Abu-Jamal from the documentary "Long Distance Revolutionary:… (First Run Features )

So lionized in Europe that France put him on a postage stamp but almost unknown in this country except to left- and right-wing zealots who either esteem or excoriate him, Mumia Abu-Jamal would be the perfect subject for an investigative documentary that explored his life and thought with a calm and even hand.

"Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary" is not that film.

Instead, filmmaker Stephen Vittoria has presented Abu-Jamal as a revered revolutionary who is in it for the long haul, someone whose extraordinary qualities are so much a given that he becomes an object of awe and wonder. This approach is certainly of interest but it is not ideal.

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The reason Abu-Jamal has been behind bars for more than 30 years, most of them in solitary confinement — his conviction for the murder of a policeman in Philadelphia — is touched on only lightly. Rather than a presentation of the facts of the case, whatever they are, we hear instead, in kind of a mockery of the very notion of balance, from the Fox network's chorus of fanatical Mumia haters.

Set opposite these people are an enormous gathering of articulate defenders, including Cornel West, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Ruby Dee, Peter Coyote and Dick Gregory.

Given the amount of writing Abu-Jamal has done in prison despite harsh conditions, their admiration is certainly understandable, but a film that would let us decide the pros and cons of his life for ourselves would certainly be welcome.


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