An obstructive, agitprop style detracts from the important, singularly American story buried in Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary, director Stephen Vittoria's account of the life and imprisonment of writer and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal. With more passion than persuasion, Vittoria tells of an exceptional black Philly kid growing up in the days when police chief Frank Rizzo was attempting to beat the civil rights movement back with 1,000 nightsticks. A scattered narrative emerges from the voices of Mumia's sister, his fellow Black Panthers, unidentified actors reading unidentified texts, observers like Cornel West and Alice Walker, and Mumia himself. Radicalized at a young age, Mumia's role as the Panthers' scribe and spokesperson prepared him for a career in journalism and radio, where he brought attention to Philadelphia's MOVE black liberation movement. Oblique and thickly layered with rhetoric, if this account does little to illuminate Mumia the man, it sets Mumia the statue aglow. Vittoria elides the story of Mumia's 1981 arrest for murdering a police officer and subsequent death sentence (commuted in 2012) to focus on our culture of incarceration. Enough of Mumia's righteous intensity burns through the cult heroics to suggest that his American tragedy needs little adornment and remains to be told.
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