Omar Broadway, the co-director and subject of the 2008 HBO documentary “An Omar Broadway Film,” killed himself earlier this month as police were attempting to arrest him for the murder of his 18-year-old nephew. The 35-year-old Broadway shot himself in the basement of an Essex County, New Jersey residence as authorities surrounded the house. Police are still looking for Kenneth Durant, 36, another subject in the May 4 murder of Najee Broadway.
Omar Broadway made the transition from incarcerated gang member to filmmaker after arranging for a camera to be smuggled into a state prison and surreptitiously shooting footage for roughly six months, capturing everything from the boredom of life behind bars to corruption among the prison guards, some of whom would use excessive force and physically abuse inmates. Broadway had hoped that getting the tapes out of prison and to the media could help secure him an early release, but wasn’t initially thinking of making a feature-length documentary.
When the footage made its way into the hands of filmmaker Douglas Tirola (“Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead”) and producer Susan Bedusa, the pair helped craft the documentary that became “An Omar Broadway Film.” In addition to the prison footage, the movie features interviews with Broadway’s mother Lynne Broadway and other members of the East Orange, New Jersey community where he grew up. Linking the two worlds together, the doc explores the challenges facing former prisoners and their families as they approach life after incarceration.
“An Omar Broadway Film” premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival while Broadway was still serving a 10-year sentence for carjacking. The night of the premiere, he participated in a Q&A with the festival audience via phone.
HBO ultimately bought the rights to the doc, which also screened at 2015’s Stranger Than Fiction, the documentary series held at New York’s IFC Center hosted by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen. Though Broadway had been released from prison prior to the Stranger Than Fiction screening, a parole violation put him back behind bars and prevented him from ever viewing the film with an audience. He was released again in 2016 and had been in discussions with Tirola about making another film, this time about life in Newark and East Orange, New Jersey.
“He was never a menacing figure,” Tirola said in an interview. “He was always enthusiastic about getting the next thing done, about getting something going.”
Just days before his death, Broadway had dropped off new footage for the proposed project at Tirola’s New York City office, following up with Tirola via text message.
“We’re going to deliver an onion. The surface will lead to layers that lead to tears as we eloquently slice the layers before you in such a compelling way that looking away isn’t even a passing thought until the onion is completely peeled, sliced and diced,” Broadway wrote. “Watch how the world is about to love what we bring to it.” Tirola said he’s waiting to make a decision about if and how to use the footage for a future project until after consulting with Broadway’s mother.
Asked what he remembered most from his conversations with Broadway, Tirola said he was struck by how candid Broadway was about criminal history. “He never shied away from owning up to what he had done,” Tirola said, referring to a phone conversation he had with Broadway while he was in prison. “He would say, ‘I’m where I deserve to be at the moment.’ To me, that was endearing.”