I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement. ~ Angela Davis, Frontline (1997)
Seeing the poster for Shola Lynch’s latest film Free Angela And All Political Prisoners is enough to evoke compelling and stirring emotions within anyone. The image serves as a symbol of pride, justice, and change—the change that comes about from social and political movements. And the film retells the events surrounding Angela Davis as she fought to clear her name against changes of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy and the international movement which sought her freedom.
By the late 1960s, Davis was known as a feminist, political activist and leader, and scholar. She was a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a member of the Communist Party USA and an associate of the Black Panther Party. UCLA would later fire Davis because of her involvement with the Communist Party. She was reinstated after Judge Jerry Pacht of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that UCLA could not bar Communists from employment with its institution. Not satisfied with this, UCLA began a relentless quest for ways in which to fire Davis. They succeeded on June 20, 1970 citing what they claimed was “inflammatory language” derived from four unique speeches Davis had given.
In August of 1970, Davis’ world would change again. She was implicated as a suspect in the kidnapping and murder of a judge in a shootout at the Marin County, CA courthouse. Davis did not believe she’d receive a fair trial so she fled California. Believed to be a terrorist, J. Edgar Hoover placed Davis on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. After a two-month manhunt, she was caught in New York City and brought to trial. In 1972, Davis was acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury.
Free Angela comes at a time where we (continue to) find our world facing grave struggles with food/hunger, education, healthcare, employment, economic downturns, inadequate housing, the prison industrial complex, and civil rights. With Angela Davis’ story, we learn about the significance of challenging authority and the power of the collective. We must not deny or forget about our power as individuals or as a collective. In fact, if it had not been for the mobilization of the collective during the Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, and Black Power Movements (to name a few) the social and political landscape would be quite different.
Free Angela is not only a (long overdue) firsthand account of Angela Davis’ htory, but it also serves as a call to action. While we may have benefited from the battles won by our forefathers and foremothers, many obstacles lie ahead. Their stories should serve as a sources hope, inspiration and redemption… Nothing in this world is impossible. With collective power, we can ignite movements to bring about the social and political change necessary to make our world one that truly lives up to its promise.
Free Angela opens in selects theaters on Friday, April 5, 2013.