With blight ravaging New York City in the 1970s, groups like the Young Lords and Black Panthers fought for radical change in their communities. Through the leadership of Dr. Mutulu Shakur, the stepfather of Tupac, one of the activities of these groups was to create the first acupuncture detoxification program in the United States.
Seen as “radical harm reduction,” this acupuncture program was a revolutionary act toward the government programs that transfixed the lives of black and brown communities throughout the South Bronx.
While the legacy of the program has long been maintained by the residents of the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, those that created it have suffered from decades of state-sanctioned persecution.
Dope is Death explains how the acupuncture clinic rose to prominence and continues in the present day, despite dealing with funding challenges.
Director Mia Donovan has also made Inside Lara Roxx, the story of adult star Lara Roxx, who went from the adult industry to an HIV infection and a psychiatric ward in Montreal all before the movie even begins, and Deprogrammed, which is all about the anti-cult crusade of Ted “Black Lightning” Patrick.
She takes on really interesting stories and somehow makes them even more intriguing through the way that they are made. For this film, she worked with Sofi Langis, who has directed several VICE features and Texas: women and guns, a love story.
At once a history lesson on how groups like the Black Panthers tried to instigate massive and sweeping change while also explaining the heroin epidemic in the South Bronx, Dope Is Death is a frank indictment of how governments use drugs to oppress communities and how their myriad intelligence organizations seek to discredit anyone that attempts to make a difference.