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Freedom Strikers

By Valerie Milano

Napa Valley, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/25/24 – In 2013, a historic event unfolded within its walls: 30,000 incarcerated individuals of Pelican Bay launched a hunger strike. The Strike, a new documentary from JoeBilll Muñoz and Lucas Guilkey, intricately weaves together half a century of personal and criminal justice history to tell the gripping story of this protest. Featuring firsthand testimonies from the strikers and unprecedented access to prison officials and footage, the film uncovers the panic within the state government and showcases the transformative power of prisoner-led resistance, redefining the true-crime narrative.

Co-directors Lucas Guilkey and JoeBill Muñoz chronicle the hunger-strike efforts undertaken by California prison inmates to protest solitary-confinement practices in the state in The Strike.

For a documentary of this caliber, viewers may wonder what the process for obtaining such rich accounts from the incarcerated individuals is. Director Lucas Guilkey reflects on the journey of documenting the hunger strikes, stating, “When the hunger strikes were happening, I started filming and spending time with some of the family members of the hunger strikers. A number of years later when these men had spent decades of their lives in solitary and were now into middle and late life, got out of prison, we connected with them and filmed some of them on their release date. We connected with the once incarcerated people, and they were very generous with their time.” This incredibly meaningful work goes the distance to not only tell the story of the powerful protest for freedom, but also provides more voice to guarantee that this systematic erasure can reach the masses.

Guilkey continues, explaining “Prisons are, by design, made to erase people from society and public consciousness. I think Pelican Bay in particular, windowless concrete cells on the Oregon border in the redwood forest. Some folks have said that these men were voiceless. But they have a voice. The hunger strike was their plea of saying ‘we are civilly dead; someone seriously listen to us.’ There has been a fair amount of coverage of solitary confinement in general, but not enough of the hunger strikes themselves; we’ve seen it in print but not in documentary film.”

Our conversation with filmmakers Lucas Guilkey and JoeBill Muñoz:

Following the theme of coverage and visibility, JoeBill Muñoz follows the same mind of his colleague on the need for greater public awareness about the realities of incarceration, Muñoz emphasizes, “In the last few years the public has grown more aware of incarceration, and really kind of critically analyzes the criminal justice system. I don’t know if enough time and attention and consciousness is given to what happens inside of prisons; the policies and the ways in which people get put into solitary confinement. They aren’t just taken away from society, but they are erased from even the society they have access to in prisons. I think that, as a journalist and someone that works on films about investigations like this, I think the public would do a lot better to know what happens in prisons.”

A generation of California men endure decades of solitary confinement and, against all odds, launch a protest to regain their freedom.

As Guilkey and Muñoz articulate, increasing public awareness is crucial to reforming the criminal justice system and ensuring that the stories of the incarcerated are neither forgotten nor ignored. The Strike is more than just a film; it is a call to action, urging society to listen, learn, and advocate for change.

Catch The Strike at the TCL Chinese Theaters on June 1, 2024, at 7:00pm PST!