By: Jenn Tyborski
Directed and written by Shola Lynch, “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” is a documentary covering a widely-publicized event in the life of Angela Davis.
A screening of the film took place in Ganz Hall in the Auditorium Building Oct. 3. Following the screening was a discussion with Lynch about the events surrounding Davis, the inspiration for the film.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Davis grew up during the civil rights demonstrations of the black community, but never had the opportunity to fulfill her desire to be a part of those social movements.
Davis was attending the University of Frankfurt at the time of the formation of the Black Panther Party in the U.S. Across seas in Germany, Davis felt distant and knew she needed to get back to the States to be part of the movement.
She attended the University of California, Los Angeles for graduate school, where she joined numerous political groups including the Black Panthers and the Che-Lumumba Club, an all-black branch of the Communist Party.
“My world is changing, and I do want to be a part of it,” Davis said.
It was the late 1960s, Davis became a vocal activist.
After graduate school, Davis was hired as a professor of philosophy at UCLA. Her first lecture drew 2,000 students. The topic of discussion was Frederick Douglass—not communism, as many political officials feared.
According to Lynch, then governor Ronald Reagan “gave Davis a national media platform because he wanted her fired for politics.”
In response, according to Lynch, Davis said, “You want to fire me, no. I’m a Communist, and that’s what I do, but I’m going to talk about George Jackson, the Soledad brothers, and what it means to be a quote-unquote criminal and define that as a political prisoner.”
In 1969, Davis was thrown into the spotlight when UCLA fired her for her membership in the Communist Party. Davis fought, and was rehired, only to be fired again because of her involvement with the Soledad brothers–the three men accused of killing a white prison guard.
In 1970, Davis was implicated and charged with the purchase of guns in an escape plan for George Jackson, one of the Soledad brothers. However, the escape attempt resulted in the death of four people, including a judge and Jackson’s younger brother.
Davis went underground and was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. Not wanting to leave the country, Davis flew to Chicago. With the FBI close behind, Davis then fled to Miami and finally to New York.
“[I] had fear of on the verge of being caught,” Davis said. “Had fear with me always.”
The fear was legitimate, because on Oct. 13, 1970, the FBI caught her. Davis refused to talk.
During her time in solitary confinement, Davis did a lot of reading and writing–never giving in to the threats of her solitude.
Eventually, she met George Jackson, the man she had become so intrigued by and who inspired her activism towards freeing political prisoners.
As Lynch discussed in the Skype chat following the film screening, Davis was uncomfortable talking about George Jackson.
“It took me a moment to really see just how much she gave me, and how open and trustful she is,” Lynch said. “She’s shy. So when I wanted to steer her to George, I took several attempts to get her to answer. And she said, ‘Well, George,’ as she shifted in her seat, ‘he’s a passionate writer,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s giving me everything she has, right there.’”
It wasn’t a secret that Davis was a Communist. However, how she got there wasn’t a traditional route.
“[Communism was] so much a part of how she gets to where she is,” Lynch said. “For her, it was really as simple as she wanted to be part of the Black Power Movement, and she couldn’t find [a] way through that was comfortable for her as an intellectual, as a woman, as a feminist, in a way, and meeting Franklin Alexander and Kendra Alexander, changed that for her. She never thought she would become a Communist.”
The Alexanders were prominent leaders of the Communist Party.
Mariame Kaba of Project Nia was moderator for the discussion. Comparing to current events and themes, Kaba asked Lynch what she felt were parallels between issues then and issues now.
“The issue that really rings true in the film and today is the issue of prisons, and who goes to prison, and why,” Lynch said.
Lynch added what drew her to the issue, personally.
“I was really struck by George Jackson’s story, and how they were sending all these young men who were getting caught up in the prison system,” Lynch said. “That’s only exploded exponentially over the decades.”
“Angela, back then, asked the uncomfortable questions … she speaks about wanting to abolish prisons. But we need people in our culture to ask those uncomfortable questions.”
Davis asked numerous uncomfortable questions, and even felt prisons should be abolished, a concept that was new and shocking to Lynch.
“I think she asks those really difficult questions to help us rethink that,” Lynch said.
Lynch went back to her early statement on her minimal understanding of the activist woman when she spoke of the inspiration for the film.
“I was just drawn to the story,” she said. “We know what she made, but we don’t know her story. Angela Davis inspired millions of people all over the globe to stand up for truth and justice.”