THE BOMBING OF OSAGE AVENUE: Philadelphia, 13th May 1985
A documentary produced and directed by Louis Massiah for WHYY-TV 12 Philadelphia, and written and narrated by Toni Cade Bambara, 1986, 58 minutes.
A documentary examining the tragedy which occured in West Philadelphia on May 13, 1985, when 11 people died and 61 families lost their homes in a fire which resulted from a police-orchestrated firebombing of the neighborhood. The tragedy occured as a result of a confrontation between the city of Philadelphia and the members of the Black radical organization known as MOVE.
On Mother’s Day, 1985, a virtual army of city and state police converged on a quiet block in historic Cobb’s Creek, a blossoming neighborhood of parks and children, aluminum siding and basketball stars nestled in the heart of Philadelphia’s African American community. By the next day, 61 homes were destroyed and 11 people were dead, all members of the communitarian MOVE organization. In this, the winner of 1987’s Global Village Best Documentary Award, Massiah establishes the setting for the tragedy early on, and Toni Cade Bambara’s poetic narration draws us deeper into the drama.
Neighbors recall the coming of MOVE members, unusual in their back-to-nature lifestyle, and the incidents — including trash thrown into their yards amd profanities blasting over loudspeakers — which caused their relationship with the community to deteriorate almost immediately. Eventually the close-knit community called on city officials to deal with MOVE members, unwittingly opening a Pandora’s Box. The bombing referred to in the documentary’s title was ordered by the Philadelphia police with the acquiescence of then-mayor, W. Wilson Goode, shortly after a 90-minute gun battle with 500 hundred city police officers ensued.
Of all the television hours devoted to this internationally infamous event, Massiah’s documentary is possibly the first to look at the real human loss, not only in the deaths that include a number of MOVE children, but the proud community of families that survived race wars and gang wars, only to be nearly destroyed by its own city.
1988 Academy Award for Best Documentary
“…an excellent film which explores the social and politcal context in which the confrontation between MOVE and the City of Philadelphia developed.”
–Bettye Collier-Thomas, Director, Center for African American History and Culture
“This extraordinary documentary is an intricately woven story of government overkill and its impact on the innocent.”
–Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Women’s Resource and Research Center, Spelman College
The Firebombing of MOVE by Kiilu Nyasha
The Bombing of MOVE: Urban Warfare in Philadelphia
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