TV-MA, which is a bummer, but it totally needs to be TV-MA. I'd love to show this to everybody, but it has actual evidence of the worst of humanity. There's nudity, violence, and torture that isn't recreated, but original photographs. It's really rough to watch. The problem is...people should totally see this.
DIRECTORS: Traci Curry and Stanley Nelson
Documentaries are hard to write about. I'm going to add to that. Documentaries are hard to write about even when you feel like writing. My life has been through the wringer lately. I'm sure that everyone is feeling pulled at the strings and sometimes self-care is kind of important. I just have to remember that I find joy in writing to a certain degree. I get to listen to music and talk about something that I enjoy discussing, even if it isn't a dialogue. But documentaries are especially hard to write about. The point of a theme in a work of fiction is that the reader is meant to approach the subject material and glean the author's message. Based on cultural background and personal history, there is a spectrum of interpretation that can be seen in film. But with documentaries, the filmmakers want you to come away with a very clear perspective. Now, that would be easy to write about if I disagreed with the documentary. After all, I'm one of the three people who thought that Free Solo was complete bunk.
But I almost completely align with the message of Attica. I'm in that place where I've gone so completely hippie-dippy liberal that I'm considered out-of-touch with the common man, despite the fact that I pretty much am the common man. I'm the audience that gets criticized for being self-congratulatory. Maybe it is because I watch so many movies. I mean, this website is evidence that I'm potentially brainwashed to the Hollywood agenda with the sheer number of movies I watch a year and write about. But the story of Attica absolutely needs to be told.
For me, Attica was always a punchline. More than a reference to the actual event at Attica State Prison, Attica was a Dog Day Afternoon reference. It's odd to think that the allusion played a bigger role in history than the actual event, which is what the documentarians were focused on in this movie. I mean, I know that something went down at a prison and that people were talking about it. That doesn't make me culturally literate. But the shock of Attica is that none of it was a secret. When we look at older events, we have to assume so much wasn't catalogued because censorship was at an all time high. In my head, Rodney King was the first hate crime that the world watched in real time. But the events at Attica State Prison were so darned public, but people just didn't seem to care. Okay, let's be honest with that sentence: White People didn't seem to care.
I can see why this story got buried in history. I mean, I keep saying "buried", but I'm really talking about WhiteWashed. The word "Attica" didn't disappear. It's one of the moments listed when it came to prison reform. But it also was a tense situation. The me-of-high-school, Conservative Tim, might have jumped on board what most of America probably believed: a prison riot needed to be quelled. Prisoners didn't have the same rights and that Americans shouldn't negotiate with terrorists. Okay, these are valid points. I mean, I was closer to this philosophy when I wrote about 13th. But Attica, as a film, makes something very clear --there would be no prisoner rights at all if it wasn't for the events of Attica.
I'm always going to be an aggressive pacifist. It's just woven into me. I honestly would like to make it through this lifetime without directly causing or contributing to the death of another human being. Call me crazy. But there's a moment in the documentary that you realize that one side is acting sane and the other side is the industrial prison complex. This all starts with an act of violence. The inmates of Attica State Prison manage to take a wing of the prison, severely injuring a prison guard. Now, based on all of the stories we've been told through both fiction and non-fiction, that prison guard should have been killed or tortured. That's something that we have all placed on prisoners everywhere. Has that happened? Probably. But that didn't happen at Attica. That man was protected by the prisoners and rushed to get medical attention. But the prisoners knew that this prison riot was going to have insane consequences. They kept that man hostage. Yeah, I really feel like I'm excusing sin right now, but I'm making the bigger point that I think that there is no right behavior and that it was a bad choices among worse choices.
But when the movie breaks down beyond the facts of the case, it becomes this giant moral and emotional drive into the heart of what institutionalized racism is. John Oliver just did this whole thing about CRT and how it is fundamentally misunderstood by most of White and Conservative America. But Attica stresses how actual CRT comes into play in reality. The completely watered down understanding of what CRT is that, post-Civil Rights Era America may claim that it doesn't develop racist policies, but it may intentionally or inadvertently uphold racist practices in its policies. The events of Attica are examples of that. While White prisoners had a hard time in the Attica State Prison, the Black members were treated abhorrently. The events of the prison weren't an attack necessarily on the competence of prisoners v. guards. It was a part of Black America getting the voice out through the failure of White America to silence those voices. When you watch this, the final act is Day Five. Day Five, everything goes down and it is way more brutal than you are ready for. But it is in the stripping of pretense that we have to say that CRT might have value.
It is genocide in a microcosm. This was cruelty reflecting the attitudes of the Civil War in New York. Yes, people were sad and afraid for their loved ones being held hostage in the prison. But when the green light was given to storm the prison, the charade of protecting other Blue Lives went out the window. I think nine guards were killed and all of those deaths came from the other guards. It was a free for all, with guards shouting the N-word with a level of pride. People were calling dibs on Black prisoners and that's the stuff that BLM is fighting against. Because these things keep on happening. Yeah, it was a while ago. But the reason that people at all talk about prison reform is because of the events at Attica.
It's an insane documentary that feels like it has more in common with a Holocaust documentary than a look at American history. There are so many of those moments that make me question whether or not Americans are fundamentally better than countries whose atrocities have been made public in history books. Maybe we're just getting around to making these moments more truthful through pictures and film. But this documentary is one of the more important documentaries out there and it needs to be watched, regardless of how tough the subject matter is to digest.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.