SHORTLISTED FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT - 95th Academy Awards
African American Studies • American Studies • Human Rights • Politics & Policy • Race, Culture & Ethnic Studies • US History • Urban Studies • Criminal Justice
Date of Completion: 2022 | Run Time: 40 minutes | Language: English | Captions: Yes | Includes: Transcript | Directors: Andrew Abrahams & Herb Ferrette | Producers: Lise Pearlman & Andrew Abrahams | Featuring: David Harper, Bryan Stevenson, Kathleen Cleaver, David Hilliard, Barry Scheck
AMERICAN JUSTICE ON TRIAL tells the forgotten story of the death penalty case that put racism on trial in a U.S. courtroom in the fall of 1968. Huey P. Newton, Black Panther Party co-founder, was accused of killing a white policeman and wounding another after a predawn car stop in Oakland. Newton himself suffered a near-fatal wound. As the trial neared its end, J. Edgar Hoover branded the Black Panthers the greatest internal threat to American security. Earlier that year, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy rocked a nation already bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. As the jury deliberated Newton’s fate, America was a tinderbox waiting to explode.
At his trial, Newton and his maverick defense team led by Charles Garry and his then rare female co-counsel Fay Stender, defended the Panthers as a response to 400 years of racism and accused the policemen of racial profiling, insisting Newton had only acted in self-defense. Their unprecedented challenges to structural racism in the jury selection process were revolutionary and risky. If the Newton jury came back with the widely expected first-degree murder verdict against the charismatic black militant, Newton would have faced the death penalty and national riots were anticipated. But Newton’s defense team redefined a “jury of one’s peers,” and a groundbreaking diverse jury headed by pioneering Black foreman David Harper delivered a shocking verdict that still reverberates today.
Stanford University | Mira Foster, Ph.D., Director of Education, Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
“A ‘MUST’ addition to the educational repertoire on American Studies and Civil/Human Rights history. Following the contentious trial of Huey P. Newton, the documentary showcases the systemic injustice of the U.S. judicial system while highlighting those who risk everything to change it.”
Hon. Elihu Harris, former Oakland Mayor & Chancellor of the Peralta Community College District
“American Justice on Trial is a fascinating look at one of the most famous trials in American history. This is a must-see for anyone committed to equal justice under law."
East Bay Yesterday | Liam O'Donoghue, Host/Producer
"This brave film transports viewers into one of the most explosive trials of the 1960s and truly shines a light on one of the lesser-known legacies of the Black Panther Party. It brilliantly presents the story of how Huey Newton and his legal team not only beat the death penalty, but changed the criminal justice system in the process. A real-life courtroom drama packed with iconic characters and a deep message."
Hon. Thelton Henderson, Retired Senior U.S. District Court Judge
"American Justice on Trial brilliantly depicts how the Newton case challenged a jury system which routinely excluded qualified Blacks from jury duty in criminal trials and revolutionized the way juries are now selected."
Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame | Penny Cooper
“Superb lawyering produced a diversified jury; the documentary is a fascinating examination of how American justice triumphs in an Oakland courtroom.”
Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld, LLP | Gay Grunfeld, Managing Partner
“The MCLE presentation was superb! We all learned a lot from your film, the skit and your presentation.”
African American Museum and Library at Oakland | Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson, Chief Curator
“The film offers insights toward understanding a legendary twentieth century cultural hero caught in the throes of a battle against the pernicious effects of the American racial caste system. American Justice on Trial will prompt much needed discussions today in formal classroom settings as well as community forums."
University of Denver | Thomas D. Russell, J.D., Ph.D., legal historian and law professor
"American Justice on Trial honors Huey Newton’s trial and defense team as critical and groundbreaking in the battle against racism embedded in the American legal system. Law professors, law students, lawyers, and historians will benefit from this well-executed, timely film."
David Harper, People v. Newton, jury foreman
"As foreman of the Newton jury in the summer of 1968, I am thrilled at the authenticity and accuracy of this wonderful film—so skillfully put together! It means a lot to me to share this history with future generations.”
CSU Northridge | Alexis Krasilovsky, Prof. Emerita, Dept. of Cinema & Television Arts
“Such an important documentary. Everyone needs to see this film….There’s an ache to have stories like this get out to the wider public.”
NAACP Santa Clarita | Valerie Bradford, President
“A remarkable piece of work—sometimes painful, but accurately reflective of an era, a movement and a government's all too familiar response to a demand for respect and equality.”
Stanford University | Clayborne Carson, MLK Centennial Professor of History
“In shining a light on the pivotal but mostly forgotten Huey Newton trial, the film itself becomes a lasting achievement.”
Deadline | Matthew Carey
“The original trial changed the way jury selection is conducted across America. The film itself is history-making."
SFGate | Randy Myers
"Revisits Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton's 1968 murder trial, a powder keg that exposed deep-seeded racism."
East Bay Express | Kelly Vance
"Absolute must-see doc is a scrapbook of historical memories, both bitter and hopeful....Great period footage and dramatic editing bring the landmark trial to life."
Counterpunch | Jonah Raskin
"Riveting...a near-perfect vehicle to educate and inform...a reminder that revolutions take place in courtrooms as well as in the streets and on the barricades."
Berkeley Daily Planet | Gar Smith
“Stunning…brings renewed attention to one of the most important trials of the last century, a legal show-down that succeeded against all odds in overcoming the racial bias of the nation's criminal justice system."
Eat Drink Films | C.J. Hirschfield
“This excellent new documentary…lay[s] out the story cleanly and artfully [and] gives us a snapshot of an important moment in our country's history, with issues that still resonate today.“
The San Francisco Standard | Richard Von Busack
“Excellent! This compact and visually rich documentary…focuses with rigor.”
SF Examiner | Jeffrey Anderson
Bayflicks | Lincoln Spector
Mercury News | Randy Myers
Film Threat | Ray Lobo
"Paint(s) a vivid picture of Oakland’s racism and the activists’ response...an indictment on a country whose history is written in both ink and blood."
KQED Arts | Michael Fox
KQED Forum | Alexis Madrigal
SF Chronicle | Pam Grady
KRON | Noelle Bellow
ABC News | Gloria Rodriguez
Film.io | Lauren deLisa Coleman
KTVU-TV | Claudine Wong
Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Press release
Best Short Documentary | Yale in Hollywood Fest
Outstanding Achievement | Cult Critic Movies Awards
Best Short Documentary | Bright International Film Festival
Jury Award | Indigo Moon Film Festival
Best Documentary | Athens International Monthly Film Festival
Nominee, Best Mid-length Documentary | San Francisco International Film Festival
Nominee, Best Short Documentary | Swedish International Film Festival
Nominee, Best Short Documentary | Universal Movie Awards
Shortlisted, Best Documentary Short | Academy Awards
San Francisco International Film Festival (premiere)
Maine International Film Festival
Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival
African American Film Marketplace and Film Festival
United Nations Association Film Festival
Woodstock Film Festival
Santa Clarita International Film Festival
New Haven Documentary Film Festival
Cultures & Communities Festival
Benin City Film Festival (Nigeria)
Djarfogo International Film (Cabo Verde)
Agropoli International Film Festival (Italy)
Symbiotic Film Festival (Ukraine)
Iconic Images Film Festival (Lithuania)
Frozen River Film Festival
Baliwood Bali–World Independent Short Film Awards (Indonesia)
Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Toronto Black Film Festival
World House Documentary Film Festival
Chambal International Film Festival (India)
Dunedin International Film Festival
Oxford Film Festival
Pan African Film & Arts Festival
Ashoka International Film Festival