Emmy-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, The Murder of Emmett Till) will direct a new documentary titled Attica, that details the five-day prison rebellion that transpired in the fall of 1971 in upstate New York and still stands as the largest and deadliest the country has ever witnessed. The film is set to premiere on Showtime in 2021, the 50th anniversary of the uprising.
More than a simple recounting of the five days of rebellion, Attica will also offer a broader understanding of the Attica tragedy in the crosscurrents of politics, race, power and punishment during the early 1970s. Through expert voices and archival images of urban and suburban life, the film explores the tensions between a young, radicalized population of mostly Black and Latino inmates, and correctional officers from a predominately white company town, where the Attica prison was the primary employer for generations of families. Attica examines inmates’ demands for recognition of their humanity at the culmination of a moment where racial justice activists embraced prisoner rights as an extension of their fight for civil rights. Dr. Heather Ann Thompson, the Pulitzer Prize and Bancroft Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, will serve as the lead historical consultant on the project.
“Attica is a film I’ve been itching to make for a very long time. It’s a dramatic story, with so many great voices that have not been heard. The uprising and its aftermath shaped the present in ways I think will be surprising to an audience,” said Nelson. “I’m thrilled to be partnering with Showtime on this project.”
Throughout his long filmmaking career, Nelson has shed new light on both familiar and under-explored aspects of the American past, combining compelling narratives with rich and deeply researched historical detail. He has won Emmys for Freedom Riders and The Murder of Emmett Till, and his last feature Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. In addition to honors for his individual films, Nelson has won a MacArthur award, an individual Peabody Award and the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts Sciences, and received the National Medal in the Humanities from President Barack Obama.