Jun. 3, 2009
By RONNIE SCHEIB
An FBFVCO production. Produced by Fred Baker. Executive producers,
Kat Roberts-Henry, Baker. Directed, written by Fred Baker.
With: Charles Everett, Erika Vaughn, Char Sydney, Jack P. Dempsey,
Kathleen Cleaver, Rosemari Mealy, Assata Shakur.
Revolving around the controversial real-life case of Black Panther
Assata Shakur, who famously escaped prison and took refuge in Cuba
after being convicted of killing a New Jersey policeman in the '70s,
Fred Baker's docudrama, "Assata aka Joanne Chesimard," voices a
powerful rallying cry when dealing directly with the activist.
Unfortunately, the writer-helmer-producer wraps his slice of history
in the half-baked love story of a fictional couple researching the
subject, trivializing events in the process. Indifferent writing,
poor line readings and an awkward marriage of narrative and
documentary elements make the pic unlikely to travel beyond fests.
Through present-day interviews with surviving movement figures,
contemporaneous newsreels and black-and-white reconstructions, Baker
places Shakur's case in the context of a roll call of slain Panthers,
convincingly arguing her innocence and the guilty collusion of police
and government agencies. That the FBI posted a million-dollar bounty
on the "domestic terrorist" in 2005 only adds contemporary relevance.
But atrocious acting -- Baker delivering the only decent performance
as lefty defense attorney William Kunstler -- and shots of the
bikini-clad researcher/heroine splashing on Havana beaches vitiate
the pic's political impact.
Camera (color, DV), Jato Smith; editor, Tracy Utley; music, Roy
Hargrove; art director, Shaun Fillion. Reviewed on DVD, New York,
April 10, 2009. (In Harlem Film Festival.) Running time: 96 MIN.