The Sentence of Michael Thompson - MSNBC Films and Documentary + - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Sentence of Michael Thompson - MSNBC Films and Documentary +

MSNBC Films and Documentary + today announced a new documentary short film, The Sentence of Michael Thompson, which tells the powerful story of Michael Thompson, the longest-serving non-violent offender in Michigan history, and the legal battle surrounding his life sentence. In 1994, Thompson was sentenced to 42 to 60 years in prison for selling three pounds of cannabis to a close friend turned police informant, and he remained there even as Michigan legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Directed by Kyle Thrash and Haley Elizabeth Anderson, The Sentence of Michael Thompson follows Michael’s daughter Rashawnda and his lawyer during the fight for clemency, and examines both the harmful legacy of the war on drugs and the paths forward as national cannabis legalization becomes a reality.

The film premiered at several festivals to critical and audience acclaim, winning the Audience Awards at SXSW, Hampton International Film Festival, Palm Springs International ShortFest, Chicago Critics Film Festival, the Jury Award at the Riverrun International Film Festival, and the jury award for Best Documentary Short at Palm Springs International ShortFest and a Jury Special Mention at Hampton International Film Festival. It will screen next at DOC NYC as part of the Meet the Press Film Festival program.

The Sentence of Michael Thompson is set to debut on MSNBC on October 30th at 10pm and will be available to stream on Documentary+ starting November 1st.

The Sentence of Michael Thompson is equal parts a condemnation of the faults within our criminal justice system and an admiration for the Thompson family’s faith and optimism in the face of injustice. The film strips away the artifice of thinking that the war on drugs was a boon to underprivileged communities, and presents it more accurately as a revolving door of mass incarceration. In-depth interviews with Thompson’s attorneys and family members reveal the heartbreaking damage done to the families of the incarcerated and the hypocrisy of a system that keeps non-violent offenders locked up as others profit from cannabis legalization. 

“This film was made to advocate for Michael and help get him out of prison, but it’s also become part of the larger national conversation around cannabis criminalization and the future of legalization,” said Directors, Kyle Thrash, and Haley Anderson. “As the administration takes executive action on marijuana reform, we wanted to make a film that put a face and a story that could represent the 40,000 people estimated to be incarcerated for non-violent cannabis-related charges.” The directors were introduced to Michael’s story through the Last Prisoner Project, a criminal justice reform non-profit organization that continued to champion Michael’s release until Governor Whitmer granted him clemency.

“We are happy to be the home for this beautiful and important film,” said Amanda Spain, Vice President of Longform Acquisitions for MSNBC. “Through Michael’s heartbreaking but also inspiring story, directors Haley Elizabeth and Kyle Thrash shine a light on the disparity that is so often felt in our justice system and capture the devastating effects incarceration can have on a family and a community. We know our audiences care about this issue and will be captivated by the journey of Michael Thompson.”

“We are so excited to have The Sentence launch our first wave of original films on Documentary+,” said Documentary+ co-founders Kathryn Everett, Head of Film for XTR, and Justin Lacob, Head of Development, in a joint statement. “In addition to the federal news about decriminalization, this timely film comes when marijuana legalization is on the ballot in six states, yet thousands of people still sit in state prisons for cannabis possession. With our wide reach to millions of viewers across our AVOD and FAST platforms, we hope this film inspires our viewers to fight for a more just future.”

The Sentence of Michael Thompson is presented by MSNBC Films and XTR along with a  Synonymous Pictures production, directed by Kyle Thrash and Haley Elizabeth Anderson, produced by Kyle Thrash and W. Ian Ross. The film is Executive Produced for MSNBC Films by MSNBC President Rashida Jones and MSNBC Films Vice President of Longform Acquisitions Amanda Spain alongside Bryn Mooser, Kathryn Everett, Justin Lacob, Lydia Kives for XTR, and William Crouse.

MSNBC Films recently announced their partnership with XTR on Periodical, a feature doc that tells the unexpected story of the human body by exploring the marvel and mystery of the menstrual cycle, from first period to last. Directed by Lina Lyte Plioplyte and featuring stories from activists, authors, journalists, and doctors, with notable names including Gloria Steinem, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, and PEN15 star Anna Konkle. The doc will premiere on MSNBC in 2023 before heading to Peacock. MSNBC Films will also debut their new series, The Turning Point, in partnership with Trevor Noah’s team at Day Zero, where each film focuses on different hot-button issues in the world today. The first film in the series, Shouting Down Midnight premieres October 23rd at 10PM on MSNBC.

MSNBC Films, a division of MSNBC, produces and acquires documentary features and short films for distribution across the NBCUniversal News Group platforms. MSNBC Films collaborates with top filmmakers to deliver a variety of thought-provoking films that reveal humanity beyond the headlines, combining the extraordinary journalism of NBCUniversal News Group. For more information, please visit

DOCUMENTARY+ is an AVOD platform and FAST channel that brings the best in nonfiction film and television to over 85 million households in the US and nearly every country globally. It is the most-watched documentary platform of its kind and is available through SamsungTVPlus, Xumo, Vizio, TCL, LocalNow, DistroTV, and Plex, with new platforms, added every quarter. DOCUMENTARY+ is powered by XTR, a premium global nonfiction entertainment studio. With a focus on audience appeal and a commitment to artistry, the award-winning studio works with outstanding creators to produce, distribute, finance, and develop films, series, and podcasts. Since its inception in 2019, XTR has produced and financed over 80 documentaries, including “They Call Me Magic,” on AppleTV+; MTV Documentary Films’ Oscar-nominated “Ascension”; and the Emmy and Peabody award-winning “76 Days.” XTR - based on a true story. 

The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization dedicated to cannabis criminal justice reform. They aim to end America’s policy of cannabis criminalization, as well as to repair the harms of this discriminatory and counterproductive crusade. They redress the past and continuing harms of these unjust laws through legal intervention, direct constituent support, advocacy campaigns, and policy change.

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