The Black Rock: The African American Experience on Alcatraz
This Friday night the Red Vic hosts the San Francisco premiere of “The Black Rock”, a new film that explores the largely undocumented history of the African American prisoner experience on Alcatraz. Heralded local filmmaker Kevin Epps has shifted his documentary lens from previous subjects like life in Hunters Point, and the Bay’s Hip Hop underground, to life in SF’s notorious offshore federal lock up.
The film, presented in starkly haunting black & white, had it’s first public screening earlier this month in the actual Alcatraz mess hall for 300 lucky guests of Epps and The National Park Service. Now, having been released from it’s island prison exile, it can reach mainland audiences and will run at the Red Vic on Haight St this week through March 5th. The NPS has indicated it will soon use portions of the film in the permanent exhibits and tours of the historic prison.
Fascination with Alcatraz permeates pop culture and the crumbling prison ranks high amongst San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions, attracting more visitors than the city’s total population each year. Epps’ new film approaches the prison from a very different socio-political angle than the usual Hollywood fare, and pulls together tales that are unique amongst the plethora of prison videos, books and memorabilia that already clutter local gift shops.
For More, Including A Peak At The Trailer, Read On…
Epps’ documentary was created over a five year period of research, interviews, and editing, and mainly tells the stories of three different individuals, all deceased African Americans who spent time in the isolated windswept Maximum Security prison during periods of forced racial segregation and prejudicial discrimination. While Al Capone and “The Birdman” have long had their infamy assured, approximately a third of the Alcatraz prisoners were black, and more were people of color, about whom little has been previously documented.
Despite the film’s obvious historical perspective, considering California’s ongoing correctional crisis within our tax payer funded prison industrial complex looming larger each day, and a society still grappling with racial dialogue, this film and the issues it looks at remain acutely relevant for numerous reasons.