Sunday, a bit of history was explored here in Toronto. The festival premiered Shola Lynch’s documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners in one of its gala slots. For a festival that premieres big Hollywood movies and epic films nightly (especially the first weekend) seeing a documentary about a black woman activist in one of the high profile slots is amazing. The red carpet hosted African American celebrities including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and both their kids. Jada Pinkett Smith is one of the investors in this film. She is doing this because she believes this is a woman whose story her daughter and other girls should know.
People who lived through the Civil Rights movement know the story. It is legendary. Those of us who are a bit younger know her infamous name but really don’t know the story. The added bonus is that the film is terrific, engaging and suspenseful and feels very contemporary. To get that to happen about a 40 year old topic just makes it even more compelling.
What the film shows is a woman who touched a raw nerve in the culture in the 60s in so many ways – she was a Communist, she was a philosopher, she was a radical activist, and she was a feminist. She was smart and strong and unwilling to compromise. She became a problem to people at the highest levels of government. J. Edgar Hoover and Nixon monitored the case. They believed that punishing her would set an example. And so she became one the most wanted criminals in America. Just imagine that being on the top 10 list of wanted criminals in the entire country. Such was the insanity of the times.
How Angela Davis survived this ordeal and came out of it the other end still an amazingly strong and confident woman is shocking to me. One of the most interesting things for me is how the film shows that Ms. Davis never lost herself and her beliefs. She feared for her life many times, but she didn’t waver. A less intelligent woman or man would have been broken. But she was never broken and that’s one of the legacies of this story.
This is a story of an African American female leader that needs to be seen by the young and old. And quite frankly it is a perfect film for our current political times as it is a reminder that democracy is still alive and well and there is always hope that things can turn out the way they are supposed to and that true justice can prevail.