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A Prisoner's Story: Black Panther In Solitary Confinement For 40 Years, July 8 On PBS

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 2, 2013 at 6:10PM

Now in its 26th season, a new year of PBS' POV documentary film series kicked off on Monday, June 24, with a slate of films that explores a range of stories from African American funeral traditions, international immigration, solitary confinement, love and adolescence in today's America and more.
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Herman's House

Now in its 26th season, a new year of PBS' POV documentary film series kicked off on Monday, June 24, with a slate of films that explores a range of stories from African American funeral traditions, international immigration, solitary confinement, love and adolescence in today's America and more.

Airing on PBS with a move to Monday nights at 10 p.m. (check local listings), the new season runs through October 14, and will conclude with winter specials. 

Airing next Monday, on July 8, is director Angad Bhalla's feature-length documentary Herman's House.

The short story goes... Once a slave estate and now known as the Alcatraz of the South, Angola prison sprawls over 18,000 Louisiana acres and houses over 5,000 prisoners. For almost 40 years Herman Wallace, a Black Panther member falsely convicted of murdering a prison guard, has been kept in a tiny cell in solitary confinement.

In 2001, when young artist and political activist Jackie Sumell asked him to collaborate on an art project by imagining his ideal house, it was the beginning of an unlikely friendship that blossoms between the two, as well as an examination of the racial inequities of the American justice system. 

Shot over five years, the film follows Jackie and Herman - who we don't see in the film; we only hear his voice in conversations with Sumell over the phone - as they plan the house for an exhibition in NYC, the exhibition’s successful opening and Jackie’s trip to a post-Katrina Louisiana where Herman’s sister, his lawyer and released Black Panther members bear witness to a survivor of injustice.

The film is less about Herman Wallace's case, and more about the building of Herman Wallace's house, as the title states - this ideal/dream house that Sumell asked him to imagine, and help her realize, with the intent there being to give Wallace a hope that he may be able to manifest his own release from imprisonment in real life, and maybe even eventually build and live in that dream house.

The model home that Sumell builds would go on to become an art installation exhibited in several galleries around the world. She planned to build a community center in Louisiana in Wallace's honor, modeled after his dream house, but developers snatched up the land she tried to raise funds to acquire and build on.

Consider it a companion piece to Vadim Jean's 2010 documentary, In the Land of the Free... which tackles Herman Wallace's confinement story directly.

Here's the trailer for Herman's House. See it on July 8 on PBS' POV series:


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