MOVE denounces city apology on the eve of its TV documentary premiere

In the new MOVE documentary, '40 Years a Prisoner,' Mike Africa, Jr., visits the prison cell where he was born. (Screenshot from 40 Years a Prisoner)

In the new MOVE documentary, '40 Years a Prisoner,' Mike Africa, Jr., visits the prison cell where he was born. (Screenshot from 40 Years a Prisoner)

On the eve of the broadcast of a new documentary about MOVE, the group has responded to the City of Philadelphia’s official apology for the 1985 bombing of the MOVE house in West Philadelphia.

Three weeks ago, Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution apologizing for the attack that killed 11 people, including five children, and incinerated an entire city block. The office of City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier says she worked with members of MOVE to draft the resolution of apology.

MOVE issued a statement on Twitter rejecting the apology and demanding the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal from prison.

“If Philadelphia officials think offering an apology is the answer, they should be offering apologies to the families of Walter Wallace, Winston Hood, William Green, and the families of countless other victims of police brutality,” read the statement signed “The MOVE family.”

Nine members of MOVE were sentenced to life in prison in 1978 for the killing of police officer James Ramp. The MOVE 9 have always insisted they are innocent. There are now six surviving members of that group, all of whom were released from prison between 2018 and 2020.

The shootout in 1978, and the escalation of hostilities between MOVE and Philadelphia Police that followed, were precursors to the bombing of a house inhabited by other members of MOVE in 1985.

The 1978 incident is the subject of a new documentary premiering this week on HBO. “40 Years a Prisoner” tells the story of the standoff 42 years ago, and that of Mike Africa, Jr., the son of two of the MOVE 9, who spent decades struggling to find justice for his parents.

“So much of what MOVE was fighting against in 1978 are the same things we’re fighting against today,” said filmmaker Tommy Oliver. “Police brutality, incarceration, systemic racism, abuse of power. It struck me.”

Oliver grew up in Philadelphia’s West Oak Lane neighborhood. He’s now based in Los Angeles where he has found success as a filmmaker. The television documentary series “Black Love,” which he produces with his wife, Codie Elaine Oliver, is in its fourth season on the Oprah Winfrey Network and stands apart from other romantic reality programming for its frank, honest, and drama-free depictions of African American relationships.

Oliver does not remember the 1985 MOVE bombing – he was an infant when it happened – but its memory was in the culture as he grew up. He said he wanted to do the documentary in order to better understand the incident that has colored Philadelphia history for 35 years.

“I wanted it to be as objective as I could. I think the folks I interviewed appreciated that. I think it’s one of the reasons folks sat down with me,” he said. “That doesn’t mean either side didn’t say things that are questionable.”

Through his relationship with Mike Africa, Jr., Oliver gained access to members of MOVE. He also features recent interviews with members of law enforcement and attorneys that were involved in the case, to get a range of perspectives on what happened in 1978.

“Plenty of people declined,” Oliver said. “But other people had nothing to hide.”

One notable omission from “40 Years a Prisoner” is any direct mention of the 1985 bombing. The later incident has overwhelmed the previous in popular consciousness to such a degree that Oliver did not want it to taint the story of what happened seven years earlier.

Oliver showed the film to the members of MOVE almost a year ago, as a private screening. Then, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film started to make rounds at film festivals as an online feature. In October, “40 Years a Prisoner” had its first in-person public screening at the Philadelphia Film Festival, as a drive-in movie at The Navy Yard in South Philadelphia.

The film had its broadcast premiere on HBO on Tuesday evening and launches on HBO Max tonight.

Note: The office of City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier says she worked with members of MOVE to draft the resolution of apology.

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