Lessons in Love and Struggle: the story of Karen and Omar Ali
- Julie Flandreau
- College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Comparative Literature, Program for Comparative Literature and Literary Theory
Student Creative Production Grant
Lessons in Love and Struggle: the story of Karen and Omar Ali is a documentary that tells the story of Philadelphia resident Ms. Karen Ali and her late husband and organizing partner of 50 years, Mr. Omar Askia Ali, who was wrongfully convicted to life without parole by an all-white jury, in 1971. In the 1980s, Ms. Karen Ali was working for then-Philadelphia Councilperson John Street, whose policies regarding housing accessibility, community resources, racial inequalities and prison reform, made a controversial figure. It was through this position that she met Mr. Omar Ali, who, while incarcerated, was organizing multiple resources and programs to help and educate young people outside the prison so they could elude the carceral system. To name just a few, the couple collaborated to launch the Boxing Association of America (BAA), a nonprofit dedicated to engaging young Black men in boxing, as a means of education and empowerment (which later received the Presidential Seal of Approval from President Ronald Regan); as well as a theater group which learned, practiced and performed plays inside the prison, and effectively decreased the looming sense of violence within its walls. From the day of their marriage in the 1980s, to the day Omar passed in 2021, Karen and Omar never spent a day together outside prison walls.
The film will proceed from an array of primary sources: Ms. Karen Ali’s own memory of the events, the collection of photographs kept from these decades, Mr. Omar Ali’s published writings, and radio interviews, archival materials from newspapers. Julie Flandreau will also be interviewing family members, lawyers who partook in his case (trial, re-trial, appeal procedure), and individuals who knew Omar inside the prison. Through the entryway of Omar and Karen’s loving 50-year relationship across prison walls, Flandreau and her collaborators hope to engage viewers in the questions raised by the ongoing politics of mass incarceration, separations between inside and outside, and the implications of life-without-parole sentences.
- College of Arts & Sciences
- Department of Comparative Literature
- Program for Comparative Literature and Literary Theory
- Student Grant
- Student Creative Production