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Title: Protest Ban of Mumia Film at Shaq O'Neal's Theater in Newark, NJ
START DATE: Sunday May 12
TIME: 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM
Location Details:
Oakland Coliseaum: East entrance ticket window, or on foot bridge to the Arena from BART
Event Type: Protest

Protest Banning of Mumia film in Newark New Jersey!


We demand that Shaquille O'Neal Come Clean on his role in this ban!


FREE MUMIA NOW!


Come out to the Warriors Playoff Game, Oakland Arena,

11:30 am, Sunday the 12th of May!


The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

asks you to support Oakland Teachers for Mumia in this call.


Join us at the east entrance ticket window, 

or on the foot bridge to the Arena from BART.


This is not a picket of the Warriors, the NBA, or Arena workers!


This is an informational protest of the banning of the Mumia film,

"Long Distance Revolutionary," in Newark NJ.


Here's why we demonstrate:


The new film about Mumia Abu-Jamal, "Mumia - Long Distance Revolutionary," which has been successfully showing in theaters all across the US, was banned from a theater in Newark NJ recently, apparently at the behest of basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal.  The film was set to open last April 26th, but after extensive preparations had been made, it was suddenly cancelled.  Suspicion falls on O'Neal, who is the co-owner of the CityPlex-12 where the film was to be shown, and is a strong supporter of the Newark Police Department, as well as other cop shops nationally.


"Long Distance Revolutionary," which chronicles the life of the respected journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, as well as the viciously racist police regime obtaining in Philadelphia at the time of the crime for which he was sent to death row, has had sold out performances in New York, LA and Oakland, as well as showing well in 23 other cities.  But it was cancelled in Newark as a "cold business decision," according to theater management.  O'Neal, who has a former Newark police officer as his security chief, had met with his owner-partners just prior to the cancellation.  


Ever since the police-orchestrated framing of Mumia—which began at the scene of the shooting of a police officer in Philadelphia's inner city in December 1981—the Fraternal Order Of Police (FOP) has been trying to kill Mumia.  The Justice Department conspired in the frame-up of Mumia.  Another man confessed to the 1981 killing, and fingered corrupt cops as the real instigators of this murder, but the courts refused to hear it.  Cops all over the country fume to this day that the execution of Mumia has now been set aside, in favor of life without the possibility of parole.  Shaquille O'Neal now appears to be part of the on-going campaign to shut Mumia up forever.   We say: Free Mumia Now!


MORE INFORMATION BELOW...


More information on this outrageous banning of an important documentary follows in two articles, below.  Journalist Linn Washington, and Nation blogger Dave Zirin, detail the circumstances of this censorship of Mumia. 


1. From: http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/1698


Shaq Attack on Mumia:

NBA Star Censors Film on Famous Radical Inmate

Tue, 04/23/2013 - 09:00

by: 

Linn Washington Jr.

 

Was it simply a “cold business decision” or a callous act of censorship?

This is the question swirling around legendary pro-basketball player Shaquille O’Neal who put a power move on Stephen Vittoria blocking this respected filmmaker’s showing of his latest documentary at the movie complex O’Neal co-owns in downtown Newark, NJ, the city where both of these men were born.

Representatives of O’Neal’s movie complex have claimed in private conversations with Newark activists that they cancelled Vittoria’s film solely because it is inconsistent with their screening practice, countering claims their cancellation sought to squelch the film because of its content.

Vittoria planned to show his latest documentary “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” at the CityPlex-12 on April 26.

But as the final publicity/ticket sales push for the scheduled screening was about to go into high gear, Vittoria discovered on April 11 that CityPlex-12 management had cancelled the booking and halted all marketing efforts. Theater officials reportedly even fired a staff member who had worked with Vittoria.

“No official reason was given or has been given for the cancellation,” Vittoria said. “We found out through a source at the theater that shortly after a meeting between theater owners Boraie Development and Shaquille O’Neal the film was cancelled.”

The suddenness of the cancellation, accompanied by initial silence on the reason why, fueled speculation that the cancellation involved the film’s subject matter, thus triggering claims of censorship.

Vittoria’s critically acclaimed film is about imprisoned journalist/author Mumia Abu-Jamal. Unlike past films that focus on ‘whodunit’ aspects of this contentious case, Vittoria’s film examines the ‘who’ of Abu-Jamal.

An imprisoned journalist, Abu-Jamal has written over a half dozen acclaimed books and thousands of commentaries during his decades in prison – most spent on death row – following his 1982 conviction for killing a Philadelphia policeman. Abu-Jamal worked as an award-winning radio reporter bprior to his 1981 arrest.

One of the many favorable reviews of Vittoria's film states that it “puts a human face on its subject, for so long now just an anti-capital-punishment icon…” A New York Times review of “Long Distance” credited illuminating views about Abu-Jamal in the film from leading activists like Dick Gregory and academics like Michelle Alexander.

O’Neal has a long-term interest in law enforcement, associating himself in a reserve capacity with police agencies in Los Angeles and Miami, two cities where he played professional basketball before retiring in 2011 with an impressive string of NBA championships, scoring titles and MVPs.

One controversy in the Abu-Jamal case is abuses by Philadelphia police, including officers tampering with murder scene evidence and intimidating eyewitnesses.

In 1981, the year of Abu-Jamal’s arrest, Philadelphia police charged five persons with high-profile murders, proclaiming each guilty. However, evidence later proved the innocence of four of those five –- including releasing one from death row –- leaving only Abu-Jamal still imprisoned. Courts have repeatedly rejected Abu-Jamal's appeals despite evidence of innocence (inclusive of police improprieties) -- evidence that far exceeded what was uncovered in those four other flawed and overturned convictions.

Vittoria said he “expected some backlash to the film because of the truth tends to aggravate the wealthy and corporate elite as well as those who support a false narrative about Mumia Abu-Jamal.” He called the cancellation of the film a “cowardly move” by the CityPlex-12 and a “direct insult” to the people of Newark.

Newark activist Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress, stated he met with CityPlex-12 management urging them to reconsider the cancellation, even pledging to employ the coalition of 170 organizations and churches he has assembled to ensure a sold-out performance.

Hamm has stated that management told him the cancellation was a “cold business decision” arising from the complex’s claimed practice of only showing Hollywood studio-produced films. Hamm notes that management did acknowledge having shown at least one independent film.

Last August, CityPlex-12 served as the venue for the Paul Robeson Awards of the Newark Black Film Festival that honored films all independently produced. That film festival, launched in 1974, has utilized the CityPlex movie complex for screenings since 2001, beginning under previous ownership.

Vittoria and his supporters counter CityPlex-12 claims of ‘cold business decision’ arising from fear of economic loss by noting the ticket sales success of “Long Distance Revolutionary” when it opened in NYC on February 1 as #3 in the country for documentaries,adding that it was #1 for documentaries during the March 1 opening in Los Angeles and was #1 during the March 8 opening in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The multi-screen CityPlex-12, which is the only movie theater in downtown Newark, features a premiere hi-tech auditorium, dubbed the SHAQ-DX, in reference to O’Neal’s nickname Shaq.

This movie facility that underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation/expansion before formally reopening last fall, received rave reviews from Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker, who considers this venue part of his efforts to revive the long-depressed city, the largest in New Jersey.

This Newark movie cancellation controversy is not the first high-profile incident igniting charges of censorship directed against Abu-Jamal. In 1994, for example, National Public Radio cancelled airing commentaries by Abu-Jamal on prison life that the public network had commissioned him to write from death row. NPR bowed to pressure from police and right-wing politicians like then powerful U.S. Senator Bob Dole, who threatened to slash NPR’s federal funding if it went ahead with the project.

Censorship even extends to others examining Abu-Jamal. In 1997 NPR canceled airing a poem it commissioned from award-winning poet Martin Espada when the subject of Espada’s work was Abu-Jamal’s then death-row plight. Philadelphia’s mainstream media has placed a blackout on two insightful books on the Abu-Jamal case: the 2003 Killing Time extensive examination by investigative reporter Dave Lindorff, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb, and J. Patrick O’Connor’s 2008 The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal that names the probable killer of Officer Daniel Faulkner.
 

While pressure from police drives much of this censorship, Abu-Jamal’s critiques of America’s discriminatory status-quo is a salient element in the censorship, which resembles the censorship once directed at legendary black activists like singer-actor Paul Robeson and author Richard Wright. That New York Times review of Vittoria’s documentary cites Abu-Jamal’s “radicalized” views, saying they are distrustful of “the political system…and the very notion that America is at heart the land of the free.”

Intense censorship drove Robeson into destitute obscurity in the decades before his 1976 death in Philadelphia. And censorship/racism drove Wright to flee the U.S. for France in 1946, spending the remainder of his life there. Perhaps not surprisingly, Wright’s writer daughter, Paris-based Julia Wright, is a leading activist in France for Abu-Jamal.

Newark activists plan protests in front of the CityPlex-12.

“We condemn the decision to cancel this film on Mumia to the fullest and we call upon all of our Mumia supporters…to rally around our community’s right to artistic self-determination,” states a press release issued by Newark activist Zayid Muhammad, who has been active in the Abu-Jamal case since 1990.

Note: Linn Washington Jr. is a recurring interview subject in Vittoria’s documentary film. Washington has followed the Abu-Jamal case since Abu-Jamal’s December 9, 1981 arrest.

2. From the Nation:


Did Shaquille O'Neal Just Box Out Mumia?

Dave Zirin on April 25, 2013 - 11:13 AM ET

Why did Newark’s only movie theater, co-owned by Shaquille O’Neal, just pull a scheduled showing of a documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal? No one is talking, but this is a story that stinks worse than the Jersey swamps. For the unfamiliar, Mumia Abu-Jamal is perhaps the most famous of the 2.4 million people behind bars in the United States. He has spent the last three decades as not only a prisoner but a political lightning rod, with the Fraternal Order of Police demanding his execution after the killing of Philadelphia Officer Daniel Faulkner. Following thirty years on death row, Mumia’s sentence was commuted to life without the possibility of parole last year.

Mumia’s supporters, which include Amnesty International, the European Union and Nelson Mandela, have continued to point out both the inconsistencies in the state’s case and the prosecution’s use of political and racially based arguments—leaning on his history as a Black Panther and radical journalist—to assure his conviction. Numerous books and documentaries have made this case. The documentary in question here is something different. Titled MUMIA: Long Distance Revolutionary, its focus is on his contribution as an author and commentator from behind bars. The film is a trenchant look at the way people can produce politics and art in the most dire of circumstances. (Full disclosure: I am briefly interviewed in the film, discussing my correspondence with Mumia about the intersection of sports and politics.)

The film has, by documentary standards, been a box-office success, with sold out shows in Los Angeles, Oakland and New York City. The director and producer, Stephen Vittoria, was especially excited to bring it to Newark, the city of his birth. As he said to me, “I know what Newark has been through. I know what the people of Newark have been through…. The city and people of Newark deserve economic redevelopment as well as access to culture. It seemed like a perfect locale to show the film. The theater announced it and it was ready to play.”

The theater in question, Cineplex 12, Newark’s only major theater, was more than ready. They had put an extraordinary amount of resources into making the film a splash, setting up an exclusive press screening, pitching stories to all the state’s major newspapers and planning a high-profile opening night featuring Newark’s famed poet Amiri Baraka. It’s remarkable for a movie theater to put this much public relations weight behind any film’s opening, let alone a documentary.

Hours before the tickets were available for sale, something even more remarkable took place. Higher-ups at the theater had the showing cancelled. Was Shaq part of that decision? I can’t say definitively because everyone’s lips are buttoned tighter than a pair of black jeans in Hoboken. Here, however, is what we do know. Shaq, who was raised for a period in Newark and still has family in the city, is the Cineplex’s co-owner. According to very good authority, Shaq, alongside his security chief, former Newark police officer Jerome Crawford, spoke with the co-Cineplex owners of Boraie Development about the film. Repeated efforts to get comment from O’Neal about the content of that discussion as well as the decision to not show the film have gone unanswered, but here are some other things we know for sure.

When O’Neal purchased the theater, he held a press conference alongside Newark Mayor Corey Booker, and pointedly thanked “the Newark Police Department” which “helped raise” him. The future Hall of Famer has long held court about his dreams of becoming a police officer. He has been sworn in as a “reserve police officer” in both Miami and Los Angeles. When in action, the results have been very unfortunate. On a ride-along, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an internal affairs report was issued after Shaq was accused of shoving the head of a suspect in a toilet and flushing repeatedly. He was cleared of these charges and his connection to the police has gone unbroken, including charity work with the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP, once again, has spent decades agitating for Mumia’s execution.

Shaq and the theater aren’t commenting about the cancellation of the Newark showings, but Mumia is. He said, “Now it seems there are a lot of people in power who don’t want you to see Long Distance Revolutionary. Ask yourself, why? Newark, New Jersey, is more than just a depressed city. It was once the place where famed black leader and controversial figure Paul Robeson lived, studied and became the Paul Robeson who became the center of history. Controversy isn’t a bad thing—it’s a good thing, but it’s always what the controversy is about. A lot of people don’t want you to see Long Distance Revolutionary…. Ask yourself, why? And then make your own decision. I know you’ll make the right one.”

I do hope Shaquille O’Neal and the executives at Boraie Development answer for themselves. They should disavow the mere thought that they would Bigfoot a film just because they find it offensive. What’s particularly sad is that Shaq could use his ample powers of speech and considerable cultural platform to speak out against the film if he’s so inclined. Here’s a scenario for Shaq: show the film. Then go onstage after the debut to explain why he thinks that Mumia should be punished and the film disrespects the police. Let him publish an oped in the Newark Star-Ledger. He should, if inclined, kick the film’s butt like it was Greg Ostertag. But don’t do this. Whether you ordered the film not to run or are just looking the other way, don’t deny the city of Newark, which you claim to love, a film just because you have the power to do so. Those aren’t the actions of The Big Aristotle. They’re the actions of a big bully.

The long aftermath of 9/11 is a tale of torture, disappearance and war crimes. Read David Cole’s take in this week’s issue of The Nation.

Related Topics: Racism and Discrimination | Sports | Media


This message from:

The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

PO Box 16222, Oakland CA 94610.  www.laboractionmumia.org

510.763.2347.





Added to the calendar on Saturday May 11th, 2013 2:12 AM

iCal Import this event into your personal calendar.
§Oakland Coliseum Sunday: Protest Ban of Mumia film at Shaq O'Neal's Theater in Newark, NJ
by Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Saturday May 11th, 2013 1:59 AM
The new film about Mumia Abu-Jamal, "Mumia - Long Distance Revolutionary," which has been successfully showing in theaters all across the US, was banned from a theater in Newark NJ recently, apparently at the behest of basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal. The film was set to open last April 26th, but after extensive preparations had been made, it was suddenly cancelled. Suspicion falls on O'Neal, who is the co-owner of the CityPlex-12 where the film was to be shown, and is a strong supporter of the Newark Police Department, as well as other cop shops nationally.




Protest Banning of Mumia film in Newark New Jersey!


We demand that Shaquille O'Neal Come Clean on his role in this ban!


FREE MUMIA NOW!


PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY


10 May 2013


Come out to the Warriors Playoff Game, Oakland Arena,

11:30 am, Sunday the 12th of May!


The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

asks you to support Oakland Teachers for Mumia in this call.


Join us at the east entrance ticket window, 

or on the foot bridge to the Arena from BART.


This is not a picket of the Warriors, the NBA, or Arena workers!


This is an informational protest of the banning of the Mumia film,

"Long Distance Revolutionary," in Newark NJ.


Here's why we demonstrate:


The new film about Mumia Abu-Jamal, "Mumia - Long Distance Revolutionary," which has been successfully showing in theaters all across the US, was banned from a theater in Newark NJ recently, apparently at the behest of basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal.  The film was set to open last April 26th, but after extensive preparations had been made, it was suddenly cancelled.  Suspicion falls on O'Neal, who is the co-owner of the CityPlex-12 where the film was to be shown, and is a strong supporter of the Newark Police Department, as well as other cop shops nationally.


"Long Distance Revolutionary," which chronicles the life of the respected journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, as well as the viciously racist police regime obtaining in Philadelphia at the time of the crime for which he was sent to death row, has had sold out performances in New York, LA and Oakland, as well as showing well in 23 other cities.  But it was cancelled in Newark as a "cold business decision," according to theater management.  O'Neal, who has a former Newark police officer as his security chief, had met with his owner-partners just prior to the cancellation.  


Ever since the police-orchestrated framing of Mumia—which began at the scene of the shooting of a police officer in Philadelphia's inner city in December 1981—the Fraternal Order Of Police (FOP) has been trying to kill Mumia.  The Justice Department conspired in the frame-up of Mumia.  Another man confessed to the 1981 killing, and fingered corrupt cops as the real instigators of this murder, but the courts refused to hear it.  Cops all over the country fume to this day that the execution of Mumia has now been set aside, in favor of life without the possibility of parole.  Shaquille O'Neal now appears to be part of the on-going campaign to shut Mumia up forever.   We say: Free Mumia Now!


MORE INFORMATION BELOW...


More information on this outrageous banning of an important documentary follows in two articles, below.  Journalist Linn Washington, and Nation blogger Dave Zirin, detail the circumstances of this censorship of Mumia. 


1. From: http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/1698


Shaq Attack on Mumia:

NBA Star Censors Film on Famous Radical Inmate

Tue, 04/23/2013 - 09:00

by: 

Linn Washington Jr.

 

Was it simply a “cold business decision” or a callous act of censorship?

This is the question swirling around legendary pro-basketball player Shaquille O’Neal who put a power move on Stephen Vittoria blocking this respected filmmaker’s showing of his latest documentary at the movie complex O’Neal co-owns in downtown Newark, NJ, the city where both of these men were born.

Representatives of O’Neal’s movie complex have claimed in private conversations with Newark activists that they cancelled Vittoria’s film solely because it is inconsistent with their screening practice, countering claims their cancellation sought to squelch the film because of its content.

Vittoria planned to show his latest documentary “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” at the CityPlex-12 on April 26.

But as the final publicity/ticket sales push for the scheduled screening was about to go into high gear, Vittoria discovered on April 11 that CityPlex-12 management had cancelled the booking and halted all marketing efforts. Theater officials reportedly even fired a staff member who had worked with Vittoria.

“No official reason was given or has been given for the cancellation,” Vittoria said. “We found out through a source at the theater that shortly after a meeting between theater owners Boraie Development and Shaquille O’Neal the film was cancelled.”

The suddenness of the cancellation, accompanied by initial silence on the reason why, fueled speculation that the cancellation involved the film’s subject matter, thus triggering claims of censorship.

Vittoria’s critically acclaimed film is about imprisoned journalist/author Mumia Abu-Jamal. Unlike past films that focus on ‘whodunit’ aspects of this contentious case, Vittoria’s film examines the ‘who’ of Abu-Jamal.

An imprisoned journalist, Abu-Jamal has written over a half dozen acclaimed books and thousands of commentaries during his decades in prison – most spent on death row – following his 1982 conviction for killing a Philadelphia policeman. Abu-Jamal worked as an award-winning radio reporter bprior to his 1981 arrest.

One of the many favorable reviews of Vittoria's film states that it “puts a human face on its subject, for so long now just an anti-capital-punishment icon…” A New York Times review of “Long Distance” credited illuminating views about Abu-Jamal in the film from leading activists like Dick Gregory and academics like Michelle Alexander.

O’Neal has a long-term interest in law enforcement, associating himself in a reserve capacity with police agencies in Los Angeles and Miami, two cities where he played professional basketball before retiring in 2011 with an impressive string of NBA championships, scoring titles and MVPs.

One controversy in the Abu-Jamal case is abuses by Philadelphia police, including officers tampering with murder scene evidence and intimidating eyewitnesses.

In 1981, the year of Abu-Jamal’s arrest, Philadelphia police charged five persons with high-profile murders, proclaiming each guilty. However, evidence later proved the innocence of four of those five –- including releasing one from death row –- leaving only Abu-Jamal still imprisoned. Courts have repeatedly rejected Abu-Jamal's appeals despite evidence of innocence (inclusive of police improprieties) -- evidence that far exceeded what was uncovered in those four other flawed and overturned convictions.

Vittoria said he “expected some backlash to the film because of the truth tends to aggravate the wealthy and corporate elite as well as those who support a false narrative about Mumia Abu-Jamal.” He called the cancellation of the film a “cowardly move” by the CityPlex-12 and a “direct insult” to the people of Newark.

Newark activist Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress, stated he met with CityPlex-12 management urging them to reconsider the cancellation, even pledging to employ the coalition of 170 organizations and churches he has assembled to ensure a sold-out performance.

Hamm has stated that management told him the cancellation was a “cold business decision” arising from the complex’s claimed practice of only showing Hollywood studio-produced films. Hamm notes that management did acknowledge having shown at least one independent film.

Last August, CityPlex-12 served as the venue for the Paul Robeson Awards of the Newark Black Film Festival that honored films all independently produced. That film festival, launched in 1974, has utilized the CityPlex movie complex for screenings since 2001, beginning under previous ownership.

Vittoria and his supporters counter CityPlex-12 claims of ‘cold business decision’ arising from fear of economic loss by noting the ticket sales success of “Long Distance Revolutionary” when it opened in NYC on February 1 as #3 in the country for documentaries,adding that it was #1 for documentaries during the March 1 opening in Los Angeles and was #1 during the March 8 opening in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The multi-screen CityPlex-12, which is the only movie theater in downtown Newark, features a premiere hi-tech auditorium, dubbed the SHAQ-DX, in reference to O’Neal’s nickname Shaq.

This movie facility that underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation/expansion before formally reopening last fall, received rave reviews from Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker, who considers this venue part of his efforts to revive the long-depressed city, the largest in New Jersey.

This Newark movie cancellation controversy is not the first high-profile incident igniting charges of censorship directed against Abu-Jamal. In 1994, for example, National Public Radio cancelled airing commentaries by Abu-Jamal on prison life that the public network had commissioned him to write from death row. NPR bowed to pressure from police and right-wing politicians like then powerful U.S. Senator Bob Dole, who threatened to slash NPR’s federal funding if it went ahead with the project.

Censorship even extends to others examining Abu-Jamal. In 1997 NPR canceled airing a poem it commissioned from award-winning poet Martin Espada when the subject of Espada’s work was Abu-Jamal’s then death-row plight. Philadelphia’s mainstream media has placed a blackout on two insightful books on the Abu-Jamal case: the 2003 Killing Time extensive examination by investigative reporter Dave Lindorff, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb, and J. Patrick O’Connor’s 2008 The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal that names the probable killer of Officer Daniel Faulkner.
 

While pressure from police drives much of this censorship, Abu-Jamal’s critiques of America’s discriminatory status-quo is a salient element in the censorship, which resembles the censorship once directed at legendary black activists like singer-actor Paul Robeson and author Richard Wright. That New York Times review of Vittoria’s documentary cites Abu-Jamal’s “radicalized” views, saying they are distrustful of “the political system…and the very notion that America is at heart the land of the free.”

Intense censorship drove Robeson into destitute obscurity in the decades before his 1976 death in Philadelphia. And censorship/racism drove Wright to flee the U.S. for France in 1946, spending the remainder of his life there. Perhaps not surprisingly, Wright’s writer daughter, Paris-based Julia Wright, is a leading activist in France for Abu-Jamal.

Newark activists plan protests in front of the CityPlex-12.

“We condemn the decision to cancel this film on Mumia to the fullest and we call upon all of our Mumia supporters…to rally around our community’s right to artistic self-determination,” states a press release issued by Newark activist Zayid Muhammad, who has been active in the Abu-Jamal case since 1990.

Note: Linn Washington Jr. is a recurring interview subject in Vittoria’s documentary film. Washington has followed the Abu-Jamal case since Abu-Jamal’s December 9, 1981 arrest.

2. From the Nation:


Did Shaquille O'Neal Just Box Out Mumia?

Dave Zirin on April 25, 2013 - 11:13 AM ET

Why did Newark’s only movie theater, co-owned by Shaquille O’Neal, just pull a scheduled showing of a documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal? No one is talking, but this is a story that stinks worse than the Jersey swamps. For the unfamiliar, Mumia Abu-Jamal is perhaps the most famous of the 2.4 million people behind bars in the United States. He has spent the last three decades as not only a prisoner but a political lightning rod, with the Fraternal Order of Police demanding his execution after the killing of Philadelphia Officer Daniel Faulkner. Following thirty years on death row, Mumia’s sentence was commuted to life without the possibility of parole last year.

Mumia’s supporters, which include Amnesty International, the European Union and Nelson Mandela, have continued to point out both the inconsistencies in the state’s case and the prosecution’s use of political and racially based arguments—leaning on his history as a Black Panther and radical journalist—to assure his conviction. Numerous books and documentaries have made this case. The documentary in question here is something different. Titled MUMIA: Long Distance Revolutionary, its focus is on his contribution as an author and commentator from behind bars. The film is a trenchant look at the way people can produce politics and art in the most dire of circumstances. (Full disclosure: I am briefly interviewed in the film, discussing my correspondence with Mumia about the intersection of sports and politics.)

The film has, by documentary standards, been a box-office success, with sold out shows in Los Angeles, Oakland and New York City. The director and producer, Stephen Vittoria, was especially excited to bring it to Newark, the city of his birth. As he said to me, “I know what Newark has been through. I know what the people of Newark have been through…. The city and people of Newark deserve economic redevelopment as well as access to culture. It seemed like a perfect locale to show the film. The theater announced it and it was ready to play.”

The theater in question, Cineplex 12, Newark’s only major theater, was more than ready. They had put an extraordinary amount of resources into making the film a splash, setting up an exclusive press screening, pitching stories to all the state’s major newspapers and planning a high-profile opening night featuring Newark’s famed poet Amiri Baraka. It’s remarkable for a movie theater to put this much public relations weight behind any film’s opening, let alone a documentary.

Hours before the tickets were available for sale, something even more remarkable took place. Higher-ups at the theater had the showing cancelled. Was Shaq part of that decision? I can’t say definitively because everyone’s lips are buttoned tighter than a pair of black jeans in Hoboken. Here, however, is what we do know. Shaq, who was raised for a period in Newark and still has family in the city, is the Cineplex’s co-owner. According to very good authority, Shaq, alongside his security chief, former Newark police officer Jerome Crawford, spoke with the co-Cineplex owners of Boraie Development about the film. Repeated efforts to get comment from O’Neal about the content of that discussion as well as the decision to not show the film have gone unanswered, but here are some other things we know for sure.

When O’Neal purchased the theater, he held a press conference alongside Newark Mayor Corey Booker, and pointedly thanked “the Newark Police Department” which “helped raise” him. The future Hall of Famer has long held court about his dreams of becoming a police officer. He has been sworn in as a “reserve police officer” in both Miami and Los Angeles. When in action, the results have been very unfortunate. On a ride-along, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an internal affairs report was issued after Shaq was accused of shoving the head of a suspect in a toilet and flushing repeatedly. He was cleared of these charges and his connection to the police has gone unbroken, including charity work with the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP, once again, has spent decades agitating for Mumia’s execution.

Shaq and the theater aren’t commenting about the cancellation of the Newark showings, but Mumia is. He said, “Now it seems there are a lot of people in power who don’t want you to see Long Distance Revolutionary. Ask yourself, why? Newark, New Jersey, is more than just a depressed city. It was once the place where famed black leader and controversial figure Paul Robeson lived, studied and became the Paul Robeson who became the center of history. Controversy isn’t a bad thing—it’s a good thing, but it’s always what the controversy is about. A lot of people don’t want you to see Long Distance Revolutionary…. Ask yourself, why? And then make your own decision. I know you’ll make the right one.”

I do hope Shaquille O’Neal and the executives at Boraie Development answer for themselves. They should disavow the mere thought that they would Bigfoot a film just because they find it offensive. What’s particularly sad is that Shaq could use his ample powers of speech and considerable cultural platform to speak out against the film if he’s so inclined. Here’s a scenario for Shaq: show the film. Then go onstage after the debut to explain why he thinks that Mumia should be punished and the film disrespects the police. Let him publish an oped in the Newark Star-Ledger. He should, if inclined, kick the film’s butt like it was Greg Ostertag. But don’t do this. Whether you ordered the film not to run or are just looking the other way, don’t deny the city of Newark, which you claim to love, a film just because you have the power to do so. Those aren’t the actions of The Big Aristotle. They’re the actions of a big bully.

The long aftermath of 9/11 is a tale of torture, disappearance and war crimes. Read David Cole’s take in this week’s issue of The Nation.

Related Topics: Racism and Discrimination | Sports | Media


This message from:

The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

PO Box 16222, Oakland CA 94610.  www.laboractionmumia.org

510.763.2347.

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timestimesSaturday May 11th, 2013 3:20 PM