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Wilmington 10 – USA 10,000. 1979. USA. Directed by Haile Gerima. 4K digital restoration courtesy the Academy Film Archive. New York premiere. 120 min.
In October 1972, nine Black men and one white woman were wrongfully convicted of arson and conspiracy and sentenced by the North Carolina state court to 282 collective years in prison. An international cause célèbre, the so-called Wilmington 10 languished for nearly a decade in separate jails, even as journalists and lawyers exposed criminal wrongdoing in the State’s case; religious leaders, politicians, and activists demanded their release and exoneration; and the Soviet Union brandished their photos as a symbol of American hypocrisy and racism. In his brilliant reckoning, Gerima invokes the Wilmington Massacre of 1898 and the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow in lynchings, poverty, and segregation; in the shuttering of a successful Black high school and a subsequent boycott led by the Reverend Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.; in street violence and riots instigated by white supremacists; and in the mysterious firebombing of a White-owned grocery store. On January 13, the New York premiere of this brutally, tragically relevant film, newly restored by the Academy Film Archive, will be followed by an onstage conversation with the Reverend Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., who received the longest sentence among the Wilmington 10, and moderated by Stacy M. Brown, a senior national correspondent for the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
Gerima observes, “Through photographs, documentation of other cases, knowledge of the vast number of Black males incurring severe sentences for rape and other unjust convictions, the Hurricane Carters, the George Jacksons, the Ruchell Magees, and other millions of nameless, faceless political prisoners in the country’s system are all shown to be linked to the same struggle—all victims of racist and political oppression. As one mother states, ‘The Wilmington 10 are the USA 10,000.’”