'Black August': New film puts spotlight on 'political prisoners' in US

REVIEW - The importance of this film and the main reason you should watch extends beyond the history and the performances that you will see...

In this day and age, the thought of anyone being a political prisoner might seem antithetical and outside the realm of possibility in a country like the United States, which is supposed to value freedom and liberty. However, in the new documentary, Black August: A Hip-Hop Benefit Concert, noted hip-hop journalist and filmmaker Dream Hampton offers a look at black Americans who consider themselves to be political prisoners inside the U.S and political exiles in countries such as Cuba.

The film which took the director 2 years to cut has its world premiere tonight at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater and it won’t be your regular run of the mill screening. Presented by ImageNation Cinema Foundation and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in association with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, attendees will be treated to a reception, musical performance, the screening and a round-table panel to further the discussion and promote awareness.

[youtubevid http://youtube.com/watch?v=Joh92fGqANI?fs=1&hl=en_US]

And there will be plenty to talk about. The film includes interviews with exiled activists Assata Shakur and Nehanda Abiodun who were in fact the ones to call on some of those in attendance at a world youth festival in Cuba to find a way to use hip-hop to “shed some light on the existence of political prisoners in the U.S.” That “way” spurred the creation of the annual “Black August” event which is produced by the nonprofit Malcolm X Grassroots Movement group of which Dream Hampton is a member. The focus of the event is to, “raise awareness about and support for political prisoners in the United States.”

The term Black August derives from an observance by prisoners after the death of George Jackson in 1971 at San Quentin by Prison Guards. The movement then became a “mandate” with the death of Khatari Gaulden who was killed in prison in 1979. That’s just one of the many facts that you’ll learn in the documentary. You’ll be reintroduced or reminded of names like Sekou Odinga, Metulu Shakur, Herman Bell and many others who are serving time, some going on nearly 30 years. The film also revisits the FBI’s program of COINTELPRO and how that may have played a hand in the incarceration of the aforementioned “political prisoners.”

The documentary also plays host to a cast of those who are considered to be hip-hop’s most conscious artists and activists like Common, M-1 and stic.man of Dead Prez, as well as Mos Def and Talib Kweli whose performances from Black August events will be seen. It’s quite interesting to hear from many of the hip-hop artists about the effects of being a part of this event and in turn to be positively effected and humbled by their respective experiences in Cuba, South Africa and other countries they’ve visited.

The importance of this film and the main reason you should watch extends beyond the history and the performances that you will see. When I spoke to Dream she said it best with, “Because even if you don’t believe there are political prisoners in the United States even if you think that these are some rabble-rouser revolutionaries who should of just listened to Dr. King and voted and they deserve to be in jail, there is still the issue of prison. George Jackson was not a political prisoner, he didn’t go to jail for political reasons. So one of the things we ask people to do around the month of August is just remember prisoners. Like we all have some family member, who, we just all have people you know what I’m saying?” To that I believe we can say a resounding yes.