Assata aka Joanne Chesimard

Pic focuses on the controversial real-life case of Black Panther Assata Shakur.

Revolving around the controversial real-life case of Black Panther Assata Shakur, who famously escaped prison and took refuge in Cuba after being convicted of killing a New Jersey policeman in the ’70s, Fred Baker’s docudrama, “Assata aka Joanne Chesimard,” voices a powerful rallying cry when dealing directly with the activist. Unfortunately, the writer-helmer-producer wraps his slice of history in the half-baked love story of a fictional couple researching the subject, trivializing events in the process. Indifferent writing, poor line readings and an awkward marriage of narrative and documentary elements make the pic unlikely to travel beyond fests.

Through present-day interviews with surviving movement figures, contemporaneous newsreels and black-and-white reconstructions, Baker places Shakur’s case in the context of a roll call of slain Panthers, convincingly arguing her innocence and the guilty collusion of police and government agencies. That the FBI posted a million-dollar bounty on the “domestic terrorist” in 2005 only adds contemporary relevance. But atrocious acting — Baker delivering the only decent performance as lefty defense attorney William Kunstler — and shots of the bikini-clad researcher/heroine splashing on Havana beaches vitiate the pic’s political impact.

Assata aka Joanne Chesimard

  • Production: An FBFVCO production. Produced by Fred Baker. Executive producers, Kat Roberts-Henry, Baker. Directed, written by Fred Baker.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV), Jato Smith; editor, Tracy Utley; music, Roy Hargrove; art director, Shaun Fillion. Reviewed on DVD, New York, April 10, 2009. (In Harlem Film Festival.) Running time: 96 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Charles Everett, Erika Vaughn, Char Sydney, Jack P. Dempsey, Kathleen Cleaver, Rosemari Mealy, Assata Shakur.
  • Music By: