NEWARK, N.J. — Basketball star Shaquille O’Neal learned early in his legendary career that cheers and jeers are all part of the game.
However when O’Neal received caustic jeers last Friday, outside of the movie complex O’Neal co-owns in downtown Newark, N.J., those taunts were different, directed against O’Neal’s business practices, not his basketball prowess.
Protestors condemned O’Neal for the decision by his CityPlex-12 to cancel a critically acclaimed documentary movie scheduled to screen at that facility last Friday.
CityPlex-12 management, when cancelling the documentary three weeks ago, also fired a theater staff member that worked on the scheduled screening with director of this documentary, Stephen Vittoria, who like O’Neal, was born in Newark.
Vittoria’s documentary – “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” – examines the prisoner at the core of Philadelphia’s most contentious murder case – Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Vittoria’s documentary departs from previous films about Abu-Jamal that examined ‘whodunit’ aspects of the journalist’s controversial 1982 conviction for killing Philadelphia Police officer Daniel Faulkner.
“Long Distance” explores who the proudly radical Abu-Jamal is and how he’s managed to produce applauded books/political commentaries/social critiques while enduring nearly decades of isolation. “Long Distance is scheduled for a Philadelphia screening this Friday.
Renowned Newark poet/activist Amiri Baraka, who participated in Friday’s protest, called the cancellation “shameful.” The program originally planned for the “Long Distance” screening, included a question and answer session led by Baraka.
“Long Distance” has sold-out theaters during screenings in New York City, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area as well as garnering favorable reviews including one in the New York Times.
Filmmaker Vittoria said sources told him the cancellation of his documentary occurred during an April 11 meeting at CityPlex-12 about the screening involving theater co-owners Boraie Development and O’Neal.
“No one has the guts to say why this film was cancelled,” Vittoria, who participated in the Friday protest, said about CityPlex’s refusal to respond to his inquiries for explanation about the cancellation.
CityPlex-12 officials, during an interview last Friday at the complex, declined comment on the cancellation - stating it was their policy to screen only Hollywood-produced films.
O’Neal and Boraie did not respond to requests for comment.
Newark activist Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress, stated management told him the cancellation was a “cold” business decision when he met with them.
“This is not about money. It is about cultural imperialism, others deciding what we will see,” Hamm said during Friday’s protest, promising more protests to come. “This cancellation is a gag rule on free expression.”
Pam Africa, head of a Philadelphia-based international support organization for Abu-Jamal, criticized the movie cancellation during that protest, lashing out at O’Neal for being on the “wrong side” of important issues for Blacks like police brutality and mass incarceration.