The crux of Mumia comes midway through this partisan documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted Philadelphia cop killer who's become a celebrated writer during his three decades on death row (a sentence commuted to life last year). Through Mumia's first half, drawing on interviews with Cornel West, Alice Walker, Amy Goodman, and others, director Stephen Vittoria recounts the racism that pervaded Philly in the '70s, when journalist Abu-Jamal became personally involved in the civil-rights stories he was covering. In this way, Vittoria creates a tantalizing tension as we approach the 1981 shooting, seeing Abu-Jamal's radicalization in advance and knowing his lonely future fate.
Abu-Jamal in jail today.
Runs Fri., Feb. 22-Thurs. Feb. 28 at Grand Illusion. Not rated. 120 minutes.
As a result, it's absolutely befuddling and nearly fatal to the doc when Vittoria spends a scant two minutes describing the killing of officer Daniel Faulkner. And most of that is taken up with Abu-Jamal's account of how rough police were when they arrested him and of racist remarks supposedly made by the judge at his trial. From then on, any claim of Abu-Jamal as a political prisoner—a claim Mumia repeats endlessly—rings completely hollow. Vittoria is unwilling to grapple with the hard questions raised by the case. Outside accounts make Abu-Jamal's innocence seem farfetched, but Vittoria omits those sources. But what if he's a murderer who also has a prophet's insight into our nation's racial and judicial ills? Guilty or no, he's clearly a singular intellect and writer.
A more straightforward doc might've brought Abu-Jamal's writings to a wider audience. As it is, Mumia is red meat for the left and little more. (Note: Producer Noelle Hanrahan will conduct a Q&A at the Friday and Saturday evening shows.)