Directed by John Frankenheimer, Against the Wall is a made-for-TV movie released by HBO on March 26th 1994, starring Kyle MacLachlan as prison guard Michael Smith and Samuel L. Jackson as inmate Jamaal X. The film received critical acclaim upon release and resulted in Jackson being nominated for a Golden Globe and Frankenheimer for a Primetime Emmy Award. The film follows the real Michael Smith’s retelling of the 1971 Attica Uprising (also known as the Attica Prison Riot). The Attica Uprising started on September 9th 1971, two weeks after the killing of George Jackson at San Quentin State Prison. Nearly 1300 of Attica prison’s approximately 2,200 inmates rioted and took control of the prison, taking 42 staff hostage. During the following four days of negotiations, authorities agreed to most of the prisoners’ 28 demands but would not agree to demands for complete amnesty from criminal prosecution for the prison takeover or for the removal of Attica’s superintendent. State police took back control of the prison on the fifth day. The uprising ended with at least 43 people dead, including ten correctional officers and civilian employees, and 33 inmates. The film portrays the most famous event in the Prisoners Rights Movement of the 20th century, and highlights a period in the 1970s when there was a significant shift and expansion in the incarceration of people of color, especially Blacks, in the American prison system.
How does the trailer and its voice over narration set up common ground between the prisoner and the newly hired guard?
What demands does Samuel L. Jackson’s character make in the trailer?
How do we see violence portrayed in the trailer? (Consider whose perspective we are viewing the scenes through and why).
How does the justice system portrayed in the movie compare to your knowledge of justice today in the context of the prison system? What similarities and differences are there?