This feature length documentary film
Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation
tells the story of three former members of the Black Panther Party
incarcerated in the Angola Louisiana State Prison known as the Angola 3 . We will focus on the issues that have surrounded and clouded their cases since the 70s. In addition our film explores the political climate of the 60s and 70s that produced “political” prisoners in America. By presenting a meticulously researched portrait of these men, their circumstances as well as the context of the times, we want to encourage viewers to think critically about history, racism, the prison system and to actively engage in making changes.
Angola State Penitentiary in northern Louisiana was once a group of slave plantations. It earned its name from the region of Africa where black slaves were taken from to work in Louisiana’s fields. Angola was transformed from slave plantations into a “hard labor” prison after the Civil War. Little has changed in the intervening years. 1970s Angola , with it’s white guards and largely black population, earned the reputation as the “most brutal ” and segregated prison in the United States.
The ANGOLA 3
Our film focuses on the Angola 3 , three men, Robert King, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace who each came into Angola prison as young men under various circumstances in the late 1960’s. Through contact with members of the Black Panthers, while inside prison, they became “politicized” and in 1971 organized a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party, an astonishing feat given the history of this brutal institution. Under these circumstances these men organized prisoners to build a movement within the walls to de-segregate the prison, to end systematic rape and violence, for better living conditions and worked as “jail house lawyers” helping prisoners file legal papers.
Robert King details a seven-day dining hall strike that had the support of almost all of the prison population. In telephoned prison interviews from solitary confinement, Albert Woodfox recalls the organized protection of new inmates from prison rape and Herman Wallace describes a 45 day hunger strike for sanitary food service.
The late 60s-early70s were a turbulent time in American culture and politics. From “Black Power”, and Puerto Rican independence movements to protest against the Vietnam war and prison conditions around the country many people, especially youth, were working to change culture and politics. From these unsettling times emerged groups like the Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement , Students for a Democratic Society, and many others working for social change.
During this time around the country the Black Panther Party, the anti-war movement, and many “leftist “organizations were targeted by the F.B.I. for “political disruption and neutralization” through programs like Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Interviews with former Panthers including Geronimo Ji Jagga and David Hilliard will contextualize the dangerous climate that these men organized under at Angola.
The COUNTER INTELLIGENCE PROGRAM
Evidence indicates that they were each charged with crimes they did not commit and have been held in solitary confinement since 1972 because of their political activities and beliefs. After organizing multiple “strikes” and “sit-ins” for better conditions they were each taken out general prison population, charged with murders and put into solitary confinement. They remained in solitary confinement virtually forgotten, until another former panther Malik Rahim (Co-founder of the Common Ground Collective), and a young law student Scott Fleming discovered that these men were still locked up in 1997. They began digging up evidence that questions the original “facts” of the investigations at Angola, raised questions about their original trials and shows proof of their innocence.
There has been a large amount of evidence uncovered over the years showing they were targeted for being “black militants”. Facts indicate that they were victims of among other things, COINTELPRO tactics, fabricated evidence, and coerced witness testimony in their original trials.
FREEDOM and BEYOND
One of them, Robert King was exonerated by the state in 2001 and released after 29 years in solitary confinement. Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox are still prisoners in solitary confinement working to get released after being nearly forgotten.
Since his release, Robert King has helped build international recognition of the Angola 3. He has spoken before the parliaments in the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Indonesia, Brazil and England on the A3 and political prisoners in the U.S. King was received as a guest and dignitary by the African National Congress in South Africa and has spoken with Desmond Tutu. His book “From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King” was released to critical acclaim in 2008.
Their cases have gained international notoriety and interest over the last few years. Amnesty International has added them to their ‘watch list’ of ‘political prisoners’ /’prisoners of conscious’. Through this and the wide support network for the Angola 3 from international human rights groups in many countries Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace receive hundreds of letters every month.
They have a pending civil suit Wilkerson, Wallace and Woodfox vs. the State of Louisiana which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled has merit to proceed to trial based on the fact that their 35+ years in solitary confinement is “inhumane and unconstitutional”. The outcome of this landmark civil case could eliminate long term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.
Angola 3: Black Panthers and the L.S.P. sheds light on these men’s stories, as well as those of other “political” prisoners held in the U.S. In spite of virtually living in a 6 x 9 cell for the last 35+ years with little human contact or freedom these men’s compassion, and spirits have not waned. They have faces, families, stories, beliefs and names.
We raise questions by exploring this controversial subject with depth, balance and humanity. Does our justice system work? Who are the victims of dissenting views? How have people been targeted for the political beliefs? We want people to think about incarceration in the U.S. and the way the justice and prison systems work behind the scenes. These men’s cases are the tip of the iceberg of injustices of our ever growing prison population. Why does it have to be?