The documentary ATTICA details the five-day prison rebellion that transpired in the fall of 1971 in upstate New York, which still stands as the largest and deadliest the country has ever witnessed. It has been 50 years since the prison riot, and Showtime has made Stanley Nelson’s emotionally remembered and electrically charged documentary available for free on its website.
Like many who identified with alternative culture, I knew nothing about Attica New York or the maximum security prison that was there. Then on Sept. 9, 1971, all radio stations and television news broadcasts erupted with reports of a terrible siege in this movie set–like fortress of a penitentiary. Prisoners with weapons had taken guards hostage, and what began as an incident exploded into a massive bloodletting on both sides. We watched in horror over five days as state police and armed National Guard troops descended upon the facility. Mayhem ensued.
This quote from RogerEbert.com speaks better than I:
“Stanley Nelson’s film ATTICA is a harrowing, infuriating look at racism and the abuse of power by people who see others as inhuman. Its subject is the riot that began at Attica Correctional Facility on Sept. 9, 1971. Over 30 prison staff members were taken hostage in the largest prison uprising in American history. Once they temporarily gained the upper hand, the prisoners at Attica—mostly Black and Latino but also White—tried to negotiate for better conditions. They brought in a slew of outside personalities including senators, lawyers, journalists, and even Russell Oswald, the NY Commissioner of Corrections. Instead of reaching a peaceful conclusion, however, the standoff ended five days later in a hail of bullets that took out hostages and inmates alike.”
Attica has been held up to scrutiny for the past 50 years; Nelson’s documentary features interviews with former inmates and eyewitnesses, including National Guardsmen brought in to remove the dead and wounded.