Friday, April 5, 2013

Shola Lynch's sad & salutary history: FREE ANGELA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS

Here's a chance to take a bracing walk down memory lane and be surprised -- even if, as was I, you, too, were someone who lived in Southern California during much of the time depicted in the new documentary FREE ANGELA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS. Even if you didn't live in either Northern or Southern California -- the two most impor-tant places in this fascinating film -- if you're of a certain age (50 or older), you probably remem-ber the brouhaha surrounding Ms Davis and her supposed involve-ment in an attempted kidnapping that took several lives and resul-ted in placing the woman on the FBI's most wanted list and, once she'd been captured, putting her on trial -- a kind of "show trial," in fact -- that many imagined she and her career would never survive.

What happened before and during this trial, along with its result, are the meat of the movie by filmmaker Shola Lynch, and a very good film this is. Ms Lynch has rounded up more archival footage about and featuring Ms Davis than I have ever seen, and most of it is fascinating stuff. The fact, for instance, that when the Black Panther party first came into being and into some power, Angela was studying in Germany. But so enthused was she about this development, that she simply had to come back home to the USA, where it turns out one of her heroes, Herbert Marcuse, was teaching in San Diego.

We see the Angela of then (above) and now (below) and learn of Davis' appointment teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the scandal that followed. And then the botched kidnapping, leading to that Most-Wanted list (two photos below) and to the trial that takes up a major portion of the film. What a life this lady has lived! Not necessarily of her own choosing, either, but -- wow -- has she come through!

That trial -- with all its delays and its search for a fair and reliable judge (it went through six of them!) -- is something to see and consider. One thing that occurred to me while watching the film: In this day of the (still relatively) open internet and immediate access to so much information, it is unlikely that something like this accusation and trial could happen so easily without many more people being aware of the ridiculousness of it all. (On the other hand, the 60s and 70s were a time of real agitation and ferment, with people young and old willing to put themselves on the line for what they believed. What would they put themselves on the line for these days? More shopping opportunities on Black Friday?)

For those of us who followed the proceedings, even somewhat, at the time of Davis' trial, and relied on the American news media to bring us events, it is interesting now to know that there existed an enormous movement -- worldwide -- to free Angela. Living here in the good 'ol USA, you hardly heard a word about this. Most of the planet, it seems, was "pro" Angela, while only the United States was not.

So certain of Davis' guilt were the various police departments who had "investigated" because, supposedly, guns used in the kidnapping attempt were registered to Ms Davis. The major problem I find with the documentary is that this "gun business" is never followed through. In similar fashion to the recent documentary, Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary, which simply ignores the entire case against Mumia Abu-Jamal, this Davis doc similarly does not bother to explain anything about those guns, other than they were said to be registered to Davis. Were the registration documents forged? Were the guns stolen from her and then used? Even if the movie-maker could learn no more about this, she might at least have told us that she tried and what the result was.

Still, the government's evidence as presented, certainly did not sway the jury. And being taken back again to the days of the late 1960s and 70s, to be reminded yet again of how blacks were summarily treated in those times, is important and salutary. As Angela herself tells us: "The idea that black people should be treated as equal -- and completely equal -- was a totally new idea." And it's one, unfortunately, that many present-day citizens of the U.S. still do not understand or agree with. (Just as they do not about the rights of gays and/or Muslims.)

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (this title comes from the slogan for Davis' release at the time of the trial) is a wonderful time capsule for us seniors, and should make a most interesting one for the younger set, too, if they can only be convinced to spend this week's entertainment budget on some smart history rather than the latest would-be blockbuster. Yeah? Who am I kidding? (Child: if you go see the remake of Evil Dead over this movie, there's no hope for you, honey.)

In any case, the documen-tary -- from CodeBlack Films (a division of Lionsgate) and running 101 minutes -- opens today, Friday, April 5, via AMC theaters in major cities across the country: Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Click here to find the theater nearest you, then insert your zip code and see what turns up.

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