Angela Davis: A radical look in film

LOS ANGELES-Angela Yvonne Davis has come a long way. In fact, some may say that Davis has come full circle in her adventurous lifetime. She was a 1960s radical, going as far as joining the infamous Huey Newton-led Black Panther Party. By the time 1970 rolled around, Davis was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, accused of being linked to the murder of a California judge.

Will Smith, Danny Glover, Angela Davis, Shola Lynch, Jaden Smith, and Willow Smith at an event for Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2012). Photo by George Pimentel – © 2012 George Pimentel – Image courtesy

Two years later, Davis was a free woman after being acquitted of the charges leveled against her. Being incarcerated did not change the radical nature of Davis. A free woman, Davis became cultural hero and used that clout to further expand her political activism.

But even before then, Davis had gained notoriety because of her ties with the black arm of the Communist Party, even losing her job as a college professor (which she later got back) at the University of California, Los Angeles-as a result of her association.

The unique thing about Davis is that she has been able to survive through all of that and can now bear witness to seeing her life being played out on the big screen.

Metaphorically, Davis is an icon, a modern-day underdog who has gone against the grain of mainstream society and has come out on top. She survived the turbulent of the 1960s.  She made it past the systematic eradication of Black Panther Party leaders and found a way to avoid total societal ostracization.

Today, Davis is a scholar with credentials as an author and teacher that she can pint on her resume. Now she is the subject of a long-awaited documentary that Jada Pinkett Smith had a big part in as executive director. On closing night of the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Davis and Pinkett Smith strolled through the mass media horde camping out on the red carpet to catch a showing of the much-hyped “Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners” film.

Shola Lynch, one of the film’s directors, said the film is very important to watch, despite the naysayers that might be lurking about saying otherwise.

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith (HawthoRNe), Angela Davis and Shola Lynch step on the red carpet at the Pan African Film Festival’s screening of “Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners in Los Angeles. Credit: Venus Bernardo

“You know, history is hugely important,” Lynch said. “This is just one small story as part of the larger narrative of black books in America. Practically every stage was challenging. But the most challenging was raising the money, and being able to take all of these facts, all of this important information and weave it into a cogent narrative. I don’t just want to tell you the facts. I want to tell you story.”

Some of those challenges came with the political baggage that has come to embody Davis’ life, Lynch added.

“The woman is a former communist,” Lynch said. “She was associated with the Black Panthers. And some people still think she’s guilty.”

However, the influence Davis has made historically have given a generation of women, especially black women, a real-life heroine, Lynch said.

“Black women in particular, she’s been this strong figure,” said Lynch. “What we haven’t noticed behind the story is the why? This is a film that hopefully fills in those gaps. Where you agree with her policies or not, she’s always stands up for what she believes in-both personally and politically.”

For her part, Davis said she hopes that today’s generation of young people might be able to learn a thing or two from the factual movie that could lead them to being actively involved in any type of cause.

“I’m hoping that young people will be inspired by this film to get involved in the many movements that we have today,” Davis told “The struggle that is depicted in that film is not over; it continues. There are still political prisoners. There are 2.5 million prisoners in jails and prisons of this country. Of course, there are other kinds of other issues about racism, about homophobia and the environment and peace. So I’m hoping that it inspires people to get involved today.”

Davis added that we will not see real change unless women are active and equal participants.

“I think the empowerment of women is so important,” Davis said. “We will not achieve progressive, radical change unless women are empowered.”

Actress Vanessa Williams (Soul Food) is one of those women empowered by Davis’ life story.

“I’m so overcome with emotion because of what she means to me as black woman, as an African in this country…While she was out there taking care of the everyday things of life, she’s out there fighting for our rights, being thrown in jail. I love what Jada (Pinkett Smith) said about how we think we know her story. I’m looking forward to seeing all of the stuff we don’t know, we didn’t know and hearing it direct and live.”

Dennis J. Freeman Written by:

Dennis J. Freeman is a veteran journalist who enjoys the moviegoing experience and sharing his thoughts on films.

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