By Linn Washington, Jr.
Was it simply a “cold business decision” or a callous act of censorship?
This is the question swirling around legendary pro-basketball player Shaquille O’Neal who put a power move on Stephen Vittoria blocking this respected filmmaker’s showing of his latest documentary at the movie complex O’Neal co-owns in downtown Newark, NJ, the city where both of these men were born.
Representatives of O’Neal’s movie complex have claimed in private conversations with Newark activists that they cancelled Vittoria’s film solely because it is inconsistent with their screening practice, countering claims their cancellation sought to squelch the film because of its content.
Vittoria planned to show his latest documentary “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” at the CityPlex-12 on April 26.
But as the final publicity/ticket sales push for the scheduled screening was about to go into high gear, Vittoria discovered on April 11 that CityPlex-12 management had cancelled the booking and halted all marketing efforts. Theater officials reportedly even fired a staff member who had worked with Vittoria.
“No official reason was given or has been given for the cancellation,” Vittoria said. “We found out through a source at the theater that shortly after a meeting between theater owners Boraie Development and Shaquille O’Neal the film was cancelled.”
The suddenness of the cancellation, accompanied by initial silence on the reason why, fueled speculation that the cancellation involved the film’s subject matter, thus triggering claims of censorship.
Vittoria’s critically acclaimed film is about imprisoned journalist/author Mumia Abu-Jamal. Unlike past films that focus on ‘whodunit’ aspects of this contentious case, Vittoria’s film examines the ‘who’ of Abu-Jamal.
An imprisoned journalist, Abu-Jamal has written over a half dozen acclaimed books and thousands of commentaries during his decades in prison – most spent on death row – following his 1982 conviction for killing a Philadelphia policeman. Abu-Jamal worked as an award-winning radio reporter bprior to his 1981 arrest.
One of the many favorable reviews of Vittoria's film states that it “puts a human face on its subject, for so long now just an anti-capital-punishment icon…” A New York Timesreview of “Long Distance” credited illuminating views about Abu-Jamal in the film from leading activists like Dick Gregory and academics like Michelle Alexander.
O’Neal has a long-term interest in law enforcement, associating himself in a reserve capacity with police agencies in Los Angeles and Miami, two cities where he played professional basketball before retiring in 2011 with an impressive string of NBA championships, scoring titles and MVPs...
For the rest of this article by LINN WASHINGTON, JR. inThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent three-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper, please go to: www.thiscantbehappening.net/