Filmmaker Catherine Masud Reveals the Untold Story of Stephen Bingham’s Underground Life in ‘A Double Life’ Documentary

SALEM, Mass. – The story of Stephen Bingham, a lawyer who disappeared in 1971 after being accused of smuggling a gun into San Quentin Prison, has been the subject of national and international headlines for decades. Bingham, who comes from a prominent family in Salem, Massachusetts, was asked by the Black Panthers to help an investigator on the legal team of prison-rights activist George Jackson, who was working on a book. When the investigator was not allowed to see Jackson, Bingham went in her place, bringing a draft of the book and a tape recorder. Shortly after, violence erupted in the prison, resulting in the deaths of Jackson, three white guards, and two white prisoners. Bingham was indicted on five counts of first-degree murder and became a fugitive, living under an assumed identity in Europe for 13 years. He eventually returned to the United States in 1984 and was acquitted after standing trial.

Filmmaker Catherine Masud, Bingham’s niece, has now directed a documentary called “A Double Life” that explores this complex story. The film had its premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival in California in October. Masud, who teaches at the University of Connecticut, said she had always thought her uncle’s story would make an interesting film. Bingham had been approached by Hollywood producers in the past, but no movie was ever made. Masud decided to make the film herself after returning to the U.S. and sensing that Bingham was ready to share his story.

The documentary delves into Bingham’s life before and after the events of August 21, 1971. Bingham, now 81 years old, had been involved in various causes, including voter registration and activism for social movements. He believed in bringing about change without violence. Bingham’s trial, which took place in 1984, saw him acquitted of all charges. However, his life took another tragic turn when his daughter Sylvia was killed in a biking accident at the age of 22.

“A Double Life” provides a glimpse into the uncertainty and fear that Bingham experienced during his years as a fugitive. Masud, who now lives in the Salem house where Bingham grew up, includes personal footage and documents from her grandfather’s filing cabinet for added authenticity. The film aims to tell a bigger story about the trajectory of Bingham’s life and the times he lived in, rather than focusing on the specific details of the San Quentin incident.

The documentary has received positive reviews and will continue to be screened at various film festivals. Bingham hopes that his story will shed light on the importance of non-violence and the injustices faced by prison inmates. Through the Sylvia Bingham Fund, he and his wife have also continued to support causes that reflect their daughter’s values. Despite the challenges he has faced, Bingham remains resilient and dedicated to making a difference.

In conclusion, “A Double Life” is a captivating documentary that explores the extraordinary journey of Stephen Bingham, a lawyer accused of smuggling a gun into San Quentin Prison. The film, directed by Bingham’s niece Catherine Masud, delves into the complex and tumultuous events of Bingham’s life, including his years as a fugitive and his eventual acquittal. Through personal interviews and personal footage, “A Double Life” paints a vivid picture of Bingham’s experiences and his commitment to non-violence. The documentary serves as a reminder of the injustices within the prison system and the power of resilience and determination.