Interview with the directors of ’40 Years A Prisoner ‘and Mike Africa Jr – Contenders TV – Deadline

The City of Philadelphia’s long and bloody conflict with the organization MOVE, a “radical” back-to-nature group who followed John Africa’s teachings, forms the backdrop for the HBO documentary 40 years of prisoner.

In 1978, the Philadelphia Police Department stormed the MOVE compound with armored vehicles, bulldozers and 600 officers, triggering a shootout that left one officer dead. Nine MOVE members, including Mike Africa and his wife Debbie Africa, then eight months pregnant, were arrested. Weeks after her arrest, Debbie gave birth, behind bars, to a boy named Mike Africa Jr.

The documentary, directed by Tommy Oliver, follows Mike Jr on a lifelong journey to gain his parents’ freedom and see his family reunited. Mike Jr. has never given up on seeing his mother and father released.

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“Unless they were home, there was no reason to give up, there was no point in giving up,” Mike Jr. explained during Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted Panel. on the film. “You don’t give up just because the time goes by. You’re done when the job is done. I never even asked if I was giving up or not. It never occurred to me.

In a case that reeked of bias, all nine of MOVE members, including Mike’s parents, were sentenced to 30 to 100 years in prison, though there was evidence to suggest the slain officer was shot. by friendly fire. Other potential exculpatory evidence was destroyed when the city, acting on the mayor’s orders, demolished the MOVE compound within hours of the shooting. If MOVE had committed a crime, it was arguably by living an unorthodox lifestyle and refusing to bow to white authority.

“I really felt like [my parents] were political prisoners because they did not go to jail for something that was really related to the crime they were accused of, ”Africa noted. “The judge, when he sentenced them, said, ‘I am condemning you as a family, not for the crime.’”

Oliver, from Philadelphia, said the story touched him because of his own family situation.

“Growing up in Philadelphia, I didn’t know my dad, my mom was on drugs, I just remembered wanting my family. I think that’s all I ever wanted, ”he said. “And, for me to see Mike, who had literally never seen his parents in person outside of jail, had never seen them together, ever, he was just the kid who had turned into a man who just wanted his family.” home … wanted to be with Mike as he did his best, despite insane odds, to bring his family home.

Executive producer Mike Jackson, who co-founded production company Get Lifted Film Co. with John Legend and Ty Stiklorius, also grew up in the Philadelphia area.

“For us at Get Lifted it was just the type of movie we wanted to be involved in because it was about the marginalized and about how to raise them and he was about love and family,” Jackson said. . “And all of those things resonated with me as a producer, but it resonated even more because it was a story from my hometown and it felt personal to me.

Africa says her parents, who were ultimately released on parole after being denied seven times before, are living a life of freedom.

“They came home and like they had hit the ground running, literally,” Africa said. “My mother is so happy and her laugh is like that deep belly laugh that radiates throughout the space she is in. My dad is right behind her, right next to her, enjoying the ride. It’s really powerful to see them… They have their ups and downs and their good and bad days, but for the most part it’s been like heavenly, heavenly.

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