I have a lot of documentary movies on my watchlist, so throughout the Blogging A-to-Z Challenge I will be posting bonus documentary movie reviews, as time allows.
Release Date: October 29, 2021
Director: Traci Curry, Stanley Nelson
Production Company: Showtime Documentary Films | Firelight Films | Topic Studios
I remember learning about the uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in Western New York, and the ensuing massacre, in the documentary series Eyes on the Prize II in the 1990s. This movie offers a far more in-depth examination of the tense four-day standoff in September 1971. Interviewees include surviving former inmates, guards, family members of the hostages, members of the observers committee who helped with negotiations, and journalists who covered the event. This includes John Johnson, a Black reporter from ABC News in New York who I remember seeing on tv when I was a kid.
What’s fascinating about this story is how after the initial uprising the Attica inmates quickly organized a society with elected leaders, medics, latrines, shelters, and a security force. While still quite chaotic, over a thousand people who probably never worked together before quickly organized an effective system of governance. I had also not know of the role that Islamic inmates played in protecting the hostages. The most heartbreaking aspect of this story is that the Attica inmates put together a set of demands to address the abuse in the prison that were deemed reasonable by the observers committee and yet the prison authorities (backed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller and ultimately President Richard Nixon) refused to budge. Ultimately they chose to retake Attica with excessive force, allowing the correctional officers to carry out bloody revenge. Even the lives of the hostages were expendable and they murdered nine of them.
Even fifty years later, this movie is a powerful indictment of incarceration in the United States and the virulence of racism that undergirds it. This movie is unflinching in its depiction of the violence of the Attica massacre so take the content warnings at the start of the film seriously if you are so inclined. But I think a lot of people like myself need to see this and be made uncomfortable to fully understand the brutality of racist institutions in American history and the American present.