America in the 70’s was wrought with turmoil, anger, racial and civil unrest. Sound familiar? In 1978, the Philadelphia police raided upon a radical back-to-nature group (MOVE). HBO Documentary Film’s 40 YEARS A PRISONER, chronicles those events and the aftermath featuring eyewitness accounts and archival footage of the escalating confrontation between police and MOVE members leading to a Mike Africa and his and decades long fight to free his parents. Not too far removed the climate currently swirling about today, the doc illuminates the story of a city laden with racial tension and police brutality.
Directed, produced and shot by Tommy Oliver, Oliver stated “I spent three years of my life making a film about the indominable will of a son to free his parents who were fighting against police brutality, systemic racism, and wrongful incarceration in the 1970s,” Three years of work that I would have happily tossed away if our country was in a responsible place where things like police shootings of unarmed Black people weren’t daily occurrences and where phrases like “ I can’t breathe” weren’t treated as memes…but that’s not the world we live in and as long as it’s not, it’s the role of the artist to shine as bright of a light as possible on those things. 40 YEARS A PRISONER is my light.” At the end of the day, slavery never really ended it’s just been disguised.
Mike Africa Jr., the son of two MOVE members imprisoned for the shooting and killing a police officer during the raid, makes a commitment fighting for the release of his parents who he has only known through prison walls and photographs.
November 12, 2017, The Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s office allows files to be open and accessible to prisoners allowing MOVE prisoners and their legal reps to discover why parole was denied seven times. In 2018, Debbie, Janet and Janine went before the parole board for the 8th time and were denied. Mike Africa’s Mom Debbie got approved to go home. Watching the family with elation go shopping to prepare for her homecoming was the stuff dreams are made of. The moment Mike is in the car with his Mom smiling and hugging is EVERYTHING!!! It only takes one person to persevere and push for justice. This is one time it worked out – 40 years later. October 22, 2018, Mike Africa, Sr. was also released. Imagine being stuck in traffic after a long day of work and all you want to do is get home without running out of gas. That is exactly what this 40 year journey has been like for this family and now they have a second chance during the final chapter of life. Don’t take freedom for granted – not now – not ever. Check it out for yourself when 40 Years a Prisoner streams via HBO December 2020.