Back in December, I noted the new documentary “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe.” about the famous (or, infamous) civil rights lawyer. Now, the film is airing on PBS in most areas of the U.S. on Tuesday (6/22/10). I’m glad to see this film getting a wider audience through its distribution on PBS because I think that it’s a good introduction to thinking about race and institutional racism more critically.
Woven into the narrative about Kunstler’s life and transformation into a civil rights rabblerouser, the film tells a number of other stories. The film provides a compelling history of the uprising at Attica, where Kunstler negotiated on behalf of the (predominantly black) prisoners. And, the film also chronicles Kunstler’s involvement in the seige at Wounded Knee where he served as a negotiator for Native Americans in AIM who were staging a protest there, demanding that the U.S. Government honor centuries of broken treaties. Kunstler was able to help avoid a massacre there and successfully defended Russell Banks and Dennis Banks, two of the leaders of the protest, at their subsequent trial in federal court. Later, Kunstler defends Yusef Salaam, one of the so-called “Central Park Joggers,” who was exonerated, after being incarcerated for many years.
The filmmakers are Kunstler’s two daughters – Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler – and they do a good job of providing a thoughtful portrait of their father as a passionate but flawed man. Their film also offers a much needed reminder of what it looks like to do battle against institutionalized racism.
To find the film on your tv-machine, check your local PBS listing and set the DVR.