Attica (2021)

attica poster 2021 movie documentary
8.5 Overall Score

A good, solid documentary that shows an injustice that could easily happen again


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Attica

Studio:  Showtime Documentary Films/Firelight Films/Topic Studios

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  January 27, 2022 (Spain)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

attica prison documentary

What happened behind these walls?

When the prisoners at the maximum security prison in Attica, New York decide they have had enough of poor treatment in the prison, they rise up and take the prison (and a number of guards) hostage on September 9, 1971.  The situation turns into a standoff, attempts at a negotiation, and a showdown leaving prisoners and guards dead…and a scar on the lives of those involved that will never heal.

Directed by Traci Curry and Stanley Nelson, Attica is a documentary feature.  The film tells the story of the Attica Prison Riot and the stand-off that followed from September 9, 1971 to September 13, 1971.  The film was released on Showtime and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

I’ll be honest.  I knew very little about Attica.  I knew it was a prison, and I knew there was a riot.  I knew that Al Pacino shouts it at the crowd in Dog Day Afternoon…but that was about it.  Watching the documentary, you get to see a true reflection by multiple sides that traumatized so many involved.

attica imates protest

Branded as a “Black Protest”, everyone was a part

The movie presents a stain on the justice system on many levels and a great case on injustice on all sides.  Largely focused on the prisoner perspective, the conditions at the prison, and the prisoner treatment has you questioning how those who are incarcerated should be treated…if you are cruel and inhumane, does it make you as bad as the criminals?  What is acceptable as “loss of freedom” vs. loss of humanity?  For those in the city, you see how Attica was set-up to fail by not properly training their staff on how to deal with prisoners who were very unlike them.  For the military sent in to clean up the mess after negotiations failed, you have the sheer trauma of seeing the horrors after the assault…and in general, you see this all covered up or whitewashed as a riot based in racial tension (something that was easy to dismiss in 1971).

The years flatten everything.  The documentary interestingly has so many pieces to their storytelling from the prisoners to the families who lost family members to the negotiators to the media covering the stand-off.  As they flip from person to person, you can easily begin to forget who is the “hardened criminal” since most have been free for years.  It is kind of a statement on the true aspect of the prison system in that most prisoners are meant to be released and continue to live a life after.

attica inmates murdered documentary

A few of the many dead…

The movie is loaded with shocking visuals and largely they are seen in the post-raiding of the prison.  With everyone covered in smoke, fog, and muck, those who survived were faced with horrific payback.  Stripped, humiliated, and tortured, the prisoners faced far worse than the rights violations they were fighting.  It is tough to watch and hard to hear from the prisoners that they simply had to take it or face the threat of being killed.

Attica is a dark documentary.  You could argue that nothing good came out of Attica.  People were scarred, the government received a black-eye, and the prison system didn’t radically change (in fact, you could argue it got worse as a result).  With current prisons bursting at the seams, a lack of guards, and financial pressures leading to the commercialization of the prison system, Attica is a warning that something bad can happen again…and the hurt cycle starts all over.

Related Links:

The 94th Academy Award Nominations

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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