MMT Minute Thoughts on 40 Years A Prisoner

A screenshot from the documentary ’40 Years a Prisoner.’ Mike Africa, Jr., visits the prison cell where he was born. (courtesy of HBO)

I thought I’d seen the best documentary of the year with “The Donut King,” but after screening the upcoming documentary 40 YEARS A PRISONER I believe the latter is one the most remarkable films I have watched and my favorite documentary of 2020.

Here’s the HBO synopsis: 40 Years A Prisoner chronicles one of the most controversial shootouts in American history, the 1978 Philadelphia police raid on the radical back-to-nature group MOVE, and the aftermath that led to a son’s decades-long fight to free his parents.

Director Tommy Oliver (1982) proves a masterful storyteller highlighting the social and racial tensions of the period while interweaving Mike Africa, Jr.’s – whose parents Mike Sr. and Debbie Africa were both incarcerated for the killing of a police officer in the aforementioned raid – story and journey to free his parents with archival footage, interviews with media and legal analysts, and first-hand accounts from persons involved.

The film is both heartbreaking – highlighting other tragic events such as the 1977 killing of an infant by police officers during a MOVE raid and the infamous 1985 bombing – and celebratory while displaying the well-documented reunion of MOVE members Mike Sr. and Debbie.

In addition to the topic, I was really engaged by, and transported back to my childhood with, the vintage shots and video of 1970’s Philadelphia – and reminded of the horror of the judicial corruptness and police brutality of that time, a very timely reflection considering the social climate of 2020.

I think that Oliver has created a powerful masterpiece with this film and rate it 5 out of 5 beats on the MMTrometer.

40 YEARS A PRISONER premieres on HBO on Tuesday, December 8.

Until next thought, Thomasena

PS: You can support the fundraiser to help Mike Sr. and Debbie Africa with their post-prison transition here, and learn about the non-profit they co-founded with others including Mike Jr., “Seed of Wisdom,” supporting community members with healthy/active living here.

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