Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

This movie ‘Black August’ is very interesting to me as former Black Panther, or to be more accurate, Black Guerilla Family member George Jackson’s book ‘Soledad Brother’ is one of the many books that were in our bookcase when I was a kid and is one of the few I never got around to reading. Because of this, out of all of the colorful and powerful revolutionary characters that were on center stage in the late sixties and early seventies, most of whom I knew through various books including Angela Davis who this movie makes out to be George Jackson’s paramour at one time, I am least familiar with Mr. Jackson and his exploits, even though his tale is one of the most explosive of them all.

In 1959 an eighteen year old George Jackson held up a gas station at gun point in San Francisco which netted him a total of seventy dollars. One of my problems with crime in general is that the Return on Investment is usually pretty weak, case point considering that George Jackson would spend twelve years in jail before his death, this would shake out about six dollars and fifty cents a year. An Indonesian kid wouldn’t even make Nike’s for that little bit of loot. For his crime Jackson received a prison term of one-year to Life, which I am STILL trying to get a mental grip on. According to Jackson, as played in this film by CSI’s Gary Dourdan, they can keep you for a year or until they are convinced that you are no longer a threat society, which could be never. Also according to Jackson, he has served the longest of anybody receiving this sentence, by far.

While in prison Jackson became increasingly radical while observing the gross injustices going on around him, which led to him writing numerous letters to his lawyers, his mother, and friends which came to the attention of a young editor named David Dryer (Darren Bridgette) who worked with Jackson behind bars to edit these letters into the book that would become Soledad Brother, a name that represents a

group of inmates locked away in solitary for the suspected murder of a prison guard. Through the discussions between Dryer and Jackson, we would learn about Jackson, his relationship with his mother, his little brother, and his colleagues who, as the movie would tell us, will eventually betray him. Through Dryer’s eyes we would also witness the physical abuse against Jackson instituted against him by the prison guards who consider him a murderer, though Jackson’s involvement in said crime is questioned since he’s in solitary 23 hours a day, and watched like a hawk for the one hour a day he was wasn’t restricted. Eventually, mere days before a trial in which it was largely thought that he would be acquitted of in the death of this guard, Jackson having seen enough planned an escape from San Quentin island which was practically destined to fail, which resulted in his death and the death of three prison guards and a couple of inmates.

Written and co-directed by Tcinque Sampson who himself spent 22 years in prison, some of those with George Jackson, ‘Black August’ presents a very unique view of a very troubling time through a view that we rarely get to see in films. Mind you, I believe one of the things the film was very effective in doing was not presenting George Jackson as a ‘hero’, and there were times where Gary Dourdan presented him as occasionally delusional, but the fact remains that things were most inequitable, most inequitable… and Jackson and his followers believed strongly that a resolution to this inequality couldn’t be achieved through peaceful means. Darren Bridgette was sound portraying Dryer as a sounding board to Jackson’s often vitriolic rants, offering disagreement on some points, agreement on others but committed to getting ‘Soledad Brother’ published.

As a film ‘Black August’ did have its flaws as there was a lot of dead space in the middle of the film where I’m sure Sampson was attempting build up the story a bit but instead we are introduced to characters who personalities and motivations are glossed over and are not seen very clearly. In particular the character of Lumumba as played by LeRoy Mobley who would eventually turn on Jackson and his party for reasons that were not made clear to me, and there was also a very brief love scene between Jackson and Angela Davis as played by Tina Marie Murray which possibly could have occurred I guess, but considering that Jackson had been in Jail since he was nineteen, I’m guessing that this relationship took place while they were kids? Again, this wasn’t made very clear. ‘Black August’ is at its best when Dourdan assumes the role of Jackson, which he does very well, and suffers from the peripheral side points, which while necessary, weren’t nearly as focused or as concise as they needed to be.

‘Black August’ is American History pure and simple and the events that surround the life and death of George Jackson are just as important, if not more so, than any of the events that occurred during that turbulent time. His is a story that is long overdue and this film goes a long way in bringing an uncompromising light to this mans life.

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