Michael Africa Jr.'s Fight to Free His Parents Highlighted in '40 Years a Prisoner'

New documentary '40 Years a Prisoner' explores Michael Africa Jr.'s fight to free his parents, who were imprisoned after the 1978 Philadelphia police raid.

Devan McGuinness - Author

Dec. 3 2020, Published 2:43 p.m. ET

michael africa jr parents now  years a prisoner
Source: HBO

As the fight for civil rights continues today, a new documentary has been released on HBO. The movie follows Michael Africa Jr., the son of two Move members who were imprisoned after the 1978 Philadelphia police raid, on his journey to fight for their freedom. His parents' story is highlighted in 40 Years a Prisoner to bring more awareness to the issues of racial tension and police brutality.

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Michael Africa Jr.: Where are his parents now?

An upcoming documentary is set to air on HBO titled 40 Years a Prisoner. The movie "chronicles one of the most controversial shootouts in American history, the 1978 Philadelphia police raid on the radical back-to-nature group Move, and the aftermath that led to a son’s decades-long fight to free his parents," the movie's description reads.

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The Hollywood Reporter writes that the film was produced, shot, and directed by Tommy Oliver. The movie highlights Michael Africa Jr.'s fight to free both of his parents who were imprisoned for charges related to the raid. The documentary uses archival footage of the tensions during that time as well as eyewitness accounts of Move members and police. 

“I spent three years of my life making a film about the indomitable will of a son to free his parents who were fighting against police brutality, systemic racism, and wrongful incarceration in the 1970s,” Tommy Oliver said in a statement according to The Hollywood Reporter

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“Three years of work that I would have happily tossed away if our country was in a responsible place where things like police shootings of unarmed Black people weren’t daily occurrences and where phrases like ‘I can’t breathe’ weren’t treated as memes…but that’s not the world we live in and as long as it’s not, it’s the role of the artist to shine as bright of a light as possible on those things. 40 Years a Prisoner is my light.”

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Michael is the son of Mike and Debbie Africa, two members of Move who were both arrested and ultimately convicted of third-degree murder for the death of a police officer. Both were sentenced to 30 years to life in prison — where Mike Jr. was born in secret, according to The Guardian

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"For almost 40 years, he visited both his parents in separate penitentiaries but never saw either of them outside prison walls," The Guardian article reads. In June 2018, "Debbie was finally released from prison on parole." 

A few months after his mother's release, in October 2018, Mike Sr. was released from jail on parole and was reunited with Debbie and their son Mike Jr. “I’m ecstatic coming from where I was just a couple of hours ago,” Mike Sr. told The Guardian. “I wasn’t convinced in my mind that this would happen until I walked out the prison gates.”

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40 Years a Prisoner highlights the time Mike and Debbie spent in prison, separated from family, as well as the other members of Move. There were nine in total who were all convicted of the same crime, though only one was responsible for shooting the officer. The movie hits on all the realities of that case and the fight for the freedom of prisoners who maintained their innocence. 

The movie premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Dec. 3, 2020, and is set to be released on HBO Max on Dec. 9, 2020.

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