June 22, 2024

Directors of ‘Attica’ speak on prison reform, ‘sitting in the space’ with people who lived through the riot

On the latest episode of theGrio‘s “Acting Up” Podcast, Entertainment Director Cortney Wills sat down with Stanley Nelson, Jr. and Traci A. Curry, directors of the acclaimed Showtime documentary Attica.

Attica centers around the Attica prison riot in 1971, which to this day is still the deadliest prison riot in our nation’s history. The documentary highlights survivors, observers, and expert government officials as they recount what happened at the Attica Correctional Facility, while also shining a light on the importance and urgency of prison reform 50 years later.

When asked why Nelson Jr. chose a documentary on the Attica prison riot as his next project, the creator explained he “long wanted” to tackle this historic event.

Attica photo call
Stanley Nelson Jr., Traci Curry, and Tyrone Larkins attend the “Attica” Photo Call during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 09, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Juanito Aguil/Getty Images)

“For years we’ve been thinking about doing a film on the prison system,” Nelson Jr. explained. Instead of just doing a film around one person who was incarcerated unjustly, however, he was more interested in focusing on the entire system, something that Attica showcases expertly.

“As a filmmaker, I felt that there were people, former prisoners who could tell the story,” he explained. “We had to make the film fairly soon to really get the participation of people who were involved, and we knew that there was some footage and pictures that existed. But, we didn’t have any idea of the amount of footage and archival material there was.”

As for Curry, while she reveals she did not know too much about the Attica prison riot, she knew it would involve questions surrounding the justice system, state abusive power, and race that she is “really interested in.”

“I really enjoyed the process of making this film because so much of it was just sitting in the space with the people that lived it and experienced it, and allowing them the room to tell it and feel it the way that they authentically felt it,” she said.

Attica thegrio.com
Director Stanley Nelson (L) and Clarence B. Jones, author and former legal counsel to Martin Luther King Jr., arrive for the premiere of “Attica” at the San Francisco Film’s documentary stories series at The Castro Theatre on November 04, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images)

She added that it was not the easiest for these people to recount their stories.

“All of them were profoundly traumatized by what happened,” she explained. “Not only the actual visceral experience of being in the middle of a massacre, but recognizing that it was your own government that targeted you in this way.”

“All of those emotions…the rage, the horror, the sadness, the betrayal is still so present with all of these people. It’s right there beneath the surface.”

The full episode of “Acting Up” is available below.

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