Many words describe Angela Davis – radical, intellectual, Communist, feminist, rebel, scholar, revolutionary– but the story of her life can be defined by one: justice.
As a civil rights activist and prison abolitionist, Davis has spent decades fighting for a fair society, and in the process, circumventing the systematic prejudices she so fervently denounces. In the new documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, filmmaker Shola Lynch explores the moment 41 years ago that Davis became an international political icon, a woman both exalted and vilified as she fought for the right to assert her beliefs, her speech and consequently her liberty.
“In the landscape of that period, when you think about political figures, when you think about mass media figures, there are very few examples, if any, of strong women,” Lynch tells theGrio. “Let alone strong black women.”
The movie centers on Davis’ implication in a courthouse murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy effort on August 7, 1970 in Marin County, California, the trial that ensued thereafter and Davis’ eventual acquittal. Though only 26 years old at the time, it was the culmination of a riotous period in Davis’ life, where she had already been labeled a terrorist by the government, and fired from her job as a professor at UCLA.
“Angela Davis is associated with [the Black Panthers] and she stands up for her rights and her beliefs,” Lynch explains. “It starts with UCLA and standing up for her job. It went against the school policy and the law, I’m pretty sure, for the school to try and fire her for being a Communist…That’s what democracy is all about, that we have freedom of speech, and academic freedom, within the context of the university, to discuss ideas that may or may not be popular. So, the idea that she was standing up for her rights unequivocally is very attractive.”
After receiving death threats for her socialist ties, Davis was linked to George Jackson, a Panther and member of the Soledad Brothers trio, when a gun she’d purchased for defense was used during his courthouse ambush. Several people were killed, and Davis was indicted for her connection to the crime. She went into hiding following the incident, becoming the third woman ever to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, and was eventually captured and detained without bail as she went on trial.
Lynch spent eight years researching Davis’ story and bringing the film project to fruition. It serves as a recounting of a significant moment in Davis’ life that would influence her future work, and inspire a faction of constituents backing her cause.