Shola Lynch‘s Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, an absorbing and well-crafted doc about the intense life of ’60s and ’70s political revolutionary Angela Davis and her 1972 conspiracy-kidnapping-murder trial, had its first press screening today at 2 pm. I attended and was quite taken. But Lynch declines to clearly explain the facts behind the prosecution’s central accusation against Davis, and that’s a huge thing to omit in a film of this sort.
Free Angela is a riveting history lesson and a fascinating time-travel look at the political lunacy of the late ’60s to early ’70s, when thousands of impassioned leftists gradually turned radical and became sincerely convinced that revolutionãry social change was imminent, leading to some of them jumping off a cliff (some rhetorical, some criminal) in order to push things along or throw wood into the fire. And the right did everything in its power to turn this country into a police state in order to repress and suppress the left, especially with the emergence of super-radical street fighters and bank robbers and bomb-makers like the Weathermen.
Much of Free Angela is about that collective madness, but more particularly about Davis’s underground fugitive phase in the wake of being charged with aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder, and then her capture by the FBI, and then her 1972 trial in San Jose. Davis was prosecuted because four guns bought by Davis were used in an 8.7.70 attempt by Jonathan Jackson, the 17 year-old brother of imprisoned Black Panther George Jackson, to break out three “Soledad brother” defendants out of a Marin County courthouse. Jackson handed guns to three black defendants and took Judge Harold Haley, the prosecutor, and three jurors as hostages. A shoot-out resulted and the judge, one of the jurors, the prosecutor and two of the three black guys (I think) wound up dead.
Jonathan Jackson was Davis’ bodyguard so perhaps he just took the firearms without her knowledge and pulled the whole thing off solo. Okay, maybe. I love Angela Davis and support the various metaphors that she came (and has come) to represent, and I’m totally glad she’s free and speaking and teaching at age 68, but does anyone believe today that Davis was totally unaware of young Jackson’s plan? Especially given the fact that she bought a shotgun three days before the courtoom assault? Read this account by Lawrence V. Cott and tell me she had no clue and was totally blame-free.
Davis was found not guilty of all charges related to the courtroom shoot-out by an all-white San Jose jury in 1972.
The problem with Free Angela is that Lynch doesn’t dig into what actually happened with between Davis, Jackson and the guns. She doesn’t grim up and ask the tough questions. That’s because this is a friendly documentary that was funded by Will Smith and Jay Z, and the agenda and the limits were clear, or so it seems tonight. (I tried to speak to Lynch tonight, but her pubicist put off her chat until tomorrow.)
(l. to r.): Willow Smith, Jaden Smith, producer Sidra Smith, director Shola Lynch, Will Smith, Angela Davis and Jada Pinkett Smith at yesterday’s TIFF premiere screening.