"The Angola 3: 3 Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation" is the kind of documentary that is difficult to watch...not because of any cinematic flaws or weaknesses, but almost solely because of the disturbing nature of the material contained within the film.
It's hard to fathom that a place such as Angola Prison, also known as Louisiana State Penitentiary or simply "The Farm," has existed in my lifetime.
In the late 1960's, three African-American men named Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King Wilkerson were sentenced to death row after each of them were tied to a murder.
A onetime slave plantation, Angola Prison was notorious in the 1960's as one of the nation's most reprehensible prisons...a prison that practically gloated about its extensive history of institutional rape and murder. Most who entered the prison lasted five years at best, and all who entered experienced unimaginably inhumane treatment without exception.
The prisoners were 80% African-American.
It was into this setting that Woodfox, Wallace and Wilkerson entered. The three quickly joined forces with other prisoners and formed the first intra-penitentiary chapter of the Black Panthers, an organization long known for its radical activism and willingness to confront social injustice. While their efforts were, in at least some ways, successful the men themselves paid a heavy price. Each was sentenced to, quite literally, decades in solitary confinement. Eventually, Wilkerson would be exonerated after 29 years...the other two remain imprisoned to this day and only in March 2008 were they released from solitary confinement after 36 years.
"The Angola 3" is narrated by, perhaps, the most known prisoner/activist, Mumia Abu-Jamal. The film uses extensive interviews, archival footage and case records to trace the history of these three men, their actions and the grave injustice that has been allowed to exist for decades.
Wilkerson, much to his credit, has spent his freedom since 2001 fighting for the freedom of Wallace and Woodfox. He has spoken to leaders worldwide and a lawsuit against the State of Louisiana is likely to have major implications on the use of longterm solitary confinement throughout the country.
Jimmy O'Halligan directs the film in a straightforward manner, perhaps recognizing that absolutely nothing is needed to make the story more dramatic than the story itself.
Indeed, the story is electrifying and heartbreaking. Angola Prison remains open to this day, and by most accounts it hasn't much improved and, by many accounts, represents a legal form of slavery in America.
Difficult to watch but impossible to ignore, "The Angola 3: 3 Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation" is a mandatory view for those dedicated to those committed to social justice in America. "The Angola 3" lands on home video on September 2nd, 2008.
The Independent Critic