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.