Back to IndieWire

5 More Documentaries About Notable Black Women To See w/ ‘Free Angela’ Opening Today

5 More Documentaries About Notable Black Women To See w/ 'Free Angela' Opening Today

Codeblack Films opens Shola Lynch’s Free Angela & All Political Prisoners in USA theaters today, April 5th – a film we’ve covered thoroughly over the last 12 months, and that we strongly encourage you to see.

In October 1970, Angela Davis was arrested in New York City in connection with a shootout that occurred on August 7 in a San Raphael, California courtroom. She was accused of supplying weapons to Jonathan Jackson, who burst into the courtroom in a bid to free inmates on trial there (the Soledad Brothers) and take hostages whom he hoped to exchange for his brother George Jackson, a black *radical* imprisoned at San Quentin Prison. In the subsequent shoot-out with police, Jonathan Jackson was killed, along with Judge Harold Haley and two inmates. Davis, who had championed the cause of organizing black prisoners and was friends (later became involved) with George Jackson, was indicted in the crime, because the guns used in the shoot-out were registered to her; but she went into hiding, becoming one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals; she was apprehended only two months later. Her trial drew international attention. Eventually, after about 18 months since her capture, in June 1972, she was acquitted of all charges.

Shola Lynch’s Free Angela & All Political Prisoners, relives those eventful, uncertain, transformative early years of Angela Davis’ life; it wants to raise awareness and reignite discussion on the movement she joined and eventually led, by introducing it to a new, younger generation, in a simple, straight-forward, accessible style.

I screened the film last fall, while it was at TIFF, and reviewed it (read that review HERE if you missed it). 

In light of today’s release, I thought I’d take a look at a few other documentaries about notable, influential black women that you may want to check out if you haven’t already. 

They are all on DVD, so accessible, although not streaming on Netflix. 

Of course there are others; so this isn’t some definitive list, but rather, simply encouragement to seek out and see as many of these films as possible. So consider it a starter list to get you in the mood, and moving…

1. Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed – It seemed apropos to begin with this one – also directed by Shola Lynch, her last film. 1972, Shirley Chisholm announced her candidacy for president of the USA, launching the first-ever run by a woman and person of color for presidential nomination, which, as you’d expect, engendered strong, and sometimes bigoted opposition, setting off currents that affect American politics and social perceptions to this day. Lynch’s film features stirring archival footage, music of the era, interviews with supporters, opponents and observers, and Chisholm’s own commentary – then and now (she passed away in 2005). A remarkable recollection of a campaign that broke new ground in politics, and truly reached out to ‘the people.’

2. Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 – Dagmar Shultz’s film tells an untold chapter (the Berlin years) of the late writer, poet and activist, child of immigrants from Grenada, who died rather young at 58 years old in 1992. The film focuses on Audre Lorde’s years in Berlin in which she catalyzed the first movement of Black Germans to claim their identity as Afro-Germans. As she was inspiring Afro-Germans, she was also encouraging the White German feminists to look at their own racism. The film serves as a historical document for future generations of Germans, profiling and highlighting, from the roots, the African presence in Germany, and the origins of the anti-racist movement before and after German reunification. It also offers analysis and an understanding of present-day debates on identity and racism in Germany. Consider it a companion piece to the 1994 documentary A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde by Ada Gray Griffin and Michelle Parkerson, which is also certainly a film you should see.

3. Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai – In 2004, she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace PrizeKenyan political and environmental activist Wangari Maathai died at age 71 in September 2011, losing a lengthy battle with cancer. Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai documents the story of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization encouraging rural women and families to plant trees in community groups, and centers specifically on Maathai, the movement’s founder, as she helps spark a movement to reclaim Kenya’s land from a century of deforestation, while providing new sources of livelihood to rural communities. The film follows her three-decade journey of courage to protect the environment, ensure gender equality, defend human rights and promote democracy – all coming from the simple act of planting trees. Lisa Merton and Alan Dater directed the film.

4. Beah: A Black Woman Speaks  Lisa Gay Hamilton’s directorial debut, the documentary is a record of the graceful, seemingly indomitable actor Beah Richards – a sensitive portrait of an artist-activist who became especially iconic to generations of black actors. The film celebrates the life of the legendary actress, poet and political activist. While Richards struggled to overcome racial stereotypes throughout her long career onstage and onscreen, she also had an influential role in the fight for Civil Rights, working alongside the likes of Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois and Louise Patterson. After performing with Richards in Jonathan Demme’s Beloved, director Hamilton said she was compelled to get her inspiring story on film, and began the project with Demme as co-producer. Hamilton’s intimate interviews capture Richards’ passion and enduring elegance, and are interwoven with archival footage of her work as an actress and activist, including riveting performances of some of her most famous poems.

5. Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun – Sam Pollard’s documentary on the path-breaking novelist, pioneering anthropologist and one of the first black women to enter the American literary canon (Their Eyes Were Watching God), as well as one of the most vital, inventive voices in American literature. A definitive biography, 18 long years in the making, the film portrays Zora in all her complexity: gifted, flamboyant, and controversial, but always fiercely original. It incorporates insights from leading scholars, and rare footage of the rural South (some of it shot by Zora herself), with re-enactments of a revealing 1943 radio interview. Hurston biographer, Cheryl Wall, traces Zora’s unique artistic vision back to her childhood in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black incorporated town in the USA. It’s really a well-rounded, informative account of an exuberant, independent woman, outlining Hurston’s life and, we could say. her near-miraculous achievements, drawing on an impressive and eclectic group of talking heads.

Of course there are other films; so this isn’t some definitive list, but rather encouragement to seek out and see as many of these films as possible. So consider it a starter list to get you in the mood, and moving…

Feel free to add to the list in the comment section below.

There are a few that are currently in development that I’m definitely looking forward to seeing eventually, like Pratibha Parmar’s documentary feature film by about writer and activist Alice Walker, titled Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth; and Whoopi Goldberg’s Moms Mabley film titled I Got Somethin’ To Tell You – both will be traveling the film festival circuit this year, so look out for them. 

And there are others… continue reading Shadow & Act to ensure that you are kept informed of the progress of each and every single one of them. 

Shola Lynch’s Free Angela & All Political Prisoners opens in USA theaters today – at AMC locations in Los AngelesNew YorkChicagoWashington D.C.OaklandPhiladelphia and Atlanta. So if you live in one of those cities, check your local listings.

For those who don’t live in those cities, CodeBlack partnered with Tugg (a web-based platform that allows audiences to choose what films play at their local theaters), to bring Free Angela to your city today. Follow this link: Or visit the Official Site

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged