Thirty-seven years, one month, and 37 days have passed since the Angola Three were sentenced to solitary confinement for crimes that evidence can’t support. Vadim Jean’s In the Land of the Free… follows these men and the claims that have been made against them as well as the trials that seem mysteriously devoid of any substantial proof. Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox remain behind bars while Robert King, the third of the three, fights for their freedom from the outside.
In the Land of the Free… follows the lives of Wallace, Woodfox, and King from before their incarceration to the present with interviews, personal accounts, and narration done by Samuel L. Jackson. While each of the three’s misdeeds arguably warranted their original sentencing, it was alleged crimes while in prison that triggered more punishment, and put them in solitary confinement for more than 35 years. But those sentences, say the Angola Three- and the film drives this point home like a hammer- were delivered because of the trio’s active involvement as Black Panthers and their open, outspoken desire to be treated as humans while detained.
Vadim Jean’s documentary provides an insightful background into prison politics and the issue of racism in the judicial system. It focuses on the extreme cruelty that has been forced on the three while also very questioning the validity of their sentencing. “In some ways,” said Jean, “they had no chance.” And as the film progresses, this inequity is undeniable, outrageous and, at times, enough to make you shout out loud angry. The latter is a response that stands in stark contrast to the positivity and strength of person demonstrated by the trio throughout the film.
For his part, Jean describes the story as “human triumph over the human spirit in the face of injustice” and “hopes that it will help create wider awareness.” It seems quite incredulous to believe that prison wardens would attempt to suffocate a human’s freedom by fixing trials, but the case that Jean presents seems too real to ignore with new unusual circumstances still arising today. Despite phone interviews with the two prisoners who still waste away in solitary confinement, the director explained, “The prison authorities wouldn’t let me visit them.”
If the ending of the film comes off as quite short and a bit too open-ended, that’s because it is. Two of the three remain in prison under potentially false and certainly harsh conditions while questions are left unanswered. With the world premiere on Saturday, February 13, it’s hopeful that this film can gain enough recognition that it force the powers of Louisiana to the provide the two remaining prisoners with the fair re-trials they deserve. Until then, Jean suggests “that people write a letter to Herman or Albert…express your unity with them.”
Letters can be sent to Angola prison via 17544 Tunica Trace, Angola, LA 70712.
In the Land of the Free… screens on Saturday, February 13, at 1:30 p.m. at the Metro 4 and again on Sunday, February 14, at 10:30 a.m. in the Metro 4. Even better, King will be present and available for Q&A after each screening.