After taking a look at the trailer for the Shola Lynch directed documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, I was enraptured. I basically spent my entire day reading up on Angela Davis, her history, and her opinions on and proposed solutions to various social injustices. On my virtual journey (of which many of my findings I have shared below), I discovered that one of the most important recurring themes in all of her works is the idea of community.
Even as Davis had international communities enfolding her in support, rock stars like the Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, writing songs for her in solidarity, and thousands protesting her release, she states in a 1997 PBS interview that, “during the time I was in jail, there was an organization called the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis, and I insisted that it be called [the] National United Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners.”
And all political prisoners.
This film is necessary because we have the opportunity to watch a recounting of an important moment in our history that we don’t really know that well and learn more about the personal history of an American icon. However, not only will we learn of the past, maybe this documentary will spark enough collective interest in what Davis has been involved with recently:
She has supported the Occupy Movement, highlighting “the importance of building a movement that is inclusive… [and] recognizing that the unity of the 99 percent must be a complex unity.”
She has lectured in all fifty states, all over the world, written several books, created multiple grassroots organizations, and gave the 2012 commencement address at Pitzer College where she wisely said, “The function of freedom is always to free someone else.”
Davis has celebrated the second inauguration of our president, Barack Obama, while remaining a critical supporter and calling him to move away from “subordination from political agendas.”
She talks with her hands. The steady flick of her wrists as she speaks almost guides her words along the air, firmly pushing them through our ears, and down into our hearts.
Highlighting Davis will in turn shed light on the very issues she was and continues to fight for, including the prison industrial complex where we discover that in 2008 approximately 2.3 million people, one quarter of all prisoners on Earth are locked behind American bars. Of those 2.3 million, 58% are black and Latino— though both groups combined make up only about 25% of the United States’ population.
She has not remained silent on the unfair economic stratification of society, the feminization of poverty, and the intersection of gender, race, and class. As an overall symbol of resistance, Davis serves as a reminder that we must never stop fighting. And when we make strides in our efforts (strides that she acknowledges have been made), we should rejoice together. Then we pick up our load and keep on fighting for justice for those of us who still don’t have it.
As Davis has stated, “I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be part of an ongoing historical movement.”
Again, taking a critical look into Angela Davis’ life not only allows us to appreciate the past but to move into the future and see the work that must be done. Together.
Cultural critic and feminist theorist bell hooks states in her book All about Love, “The good life was no longer to be found in community and connection, it was to be found in accumulation and the fulfillment of hedonistic, materialistic desire. In keeping with this shift in values from a people-oriented to a thing-oriented society, the rich and famous, particularly movie stars and singers, began to be seen as the only relevant cultural icons. Gone were the visionary political leaders and activists.”
It is a telling sign that Free Angela required executive producers to include the likes of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith (Overbrook Entertainment) and Jay-Z (Roc Nation). We live in a society where we can recite the last five love interests of a pop-country star, the day to day activities of an actor who is literally unaware of our existences and the prices and designers of red carpet gowns that we could never afford. Yet, some of our generation do not know Toni Morrison from Alice Walker. If we don’t catch ourselves, we can find ourselves more interested in the “hair regimen” of a great political activist instead of wondering what was mulling underneath the glorious black halo. Perhaps a by-product of this film will be a re-awakening of the conscience.
During an interview with Ebony, Lynch mentions pre-screening a “rough cut” of the film for Davis,
“From the first image her foot started a little bit of a nervous wag. She sat forward several times. She teared up once or twice. Her first comment when the film was over was: ‘That made me uncomfortable.’ Which for me as a filmmaker and a journalist, is a compliment. It clearly is not the story she would tell. She would tell a strictly political, deeply kind of philosophical piece. And that’s part of it, but for me, the interesting question is: Who is the person behind the iconography? How is she real? I wanted to get a sense of her as a person.”
If a film can elicit such emotion from its very subject, it must be saying something important. Something we need to hear.
When you are able to see yourself naked, unencumbered by elements X, Y, and Z, you may understandably be uncomfortable… even afraid. However, it is in this very moment of fear and discomfort that your actions truly matter. Free Angela tells the tale of a woman who did not allow anything to prevent her from speaking her truth and standing for justice not simply for herself, but for everyone.
Many remember Davis as pictured here, in this pose eternally.
But she need not be frozen in time… she never stopped fighting.