Montreal Black History Month’s Fade to Black film series is screening director Ron Harpelle’s critically-acclaimed documentary film Hard Time about Robert Hillary King, former member of the Black Panther Party who spent 32 years – 29 of them in solitary confinement – in Louisiana’s Angola Prison for a crime he did not commit. King was released in February 2001 and has been campaigning against abuses in the U.S. criminal justice system ever since.
King will be in Montreal for a public Q&A session following the Feb 21 screening of Hard Time at the Maxwell Cummings Auditorium in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
King, now 71, took some time this week to answer a few questions from POP TART.
POP TART: What kind of lessons / hope does your life story offer young black males who cannot escape the grind of poverty and racism?
RHK: My advice to those young folks would be to look at my story and take from that. I was arrested and thrown in prison, “biggomized” by the system, so to speak. I took that as encouragement, didn’t take it as being something should deter me from seeking [justice]. As an African-American, I also had to take a stand. I was at the bottom and had to scream the loudest just to people could hear me.
POP TART: Are you more compassionate or angrier person today?
RHK: The anger propels me. It doesn’t deter me from doing what I have to do. I’m angry over what the system did to me, but it’s not an anger to the point of bitterness. I’m angry enough to do something about it.
POP TART: Lots of Americans white and black looked to Obama as a symbol of change in America. In your eyes, is the new boss the same as the old boss?
RHK: Many people, black and white, understand the system [in America] is constructed on flaws. People expect change from Obama and are still in his corner, but the changes Obama tried to make but have been impeded in many ways. He’s a black man in a White House, he’s not the typical boss. He’s different. I’ve seen Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy, Reagan and the rest. Obama is a people’s president, more for the people than the corporations.
POP TART: Do you feel you were cheated?
RHK: At this time victorious. I feel victorious, not a victim. The system played a part in my victimization but victimization is also a state of mind. So I never saw myself as a victim. Never saw myself as flawed. People [also] ask me if I can forgive. Why do I have to be the one to forgive? If anyone should talk about forgiveness, it’s the system itself. I was cheated out of a long span of life for a crime I didn’t commit, but the time I spent [in prison] wasn’t wasted because I learned the system, I learned how to deal with it on a much broader scale.
Director Ron Harpelle’s documentary film Hard Time (English with French subtitles) will screen at Maxwell Cummings Auditorium in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1379 Sherbrooke W) on Feb 21 at 7 pm, followed by a public Q&A session with Robert Hillary King, as part of Montreal’s Black History Month Fade to Black series. Admission: $20.