Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Free Angela and All Political Prisoners

Documentary focuses less on the facts of the Angela Davis case than on efforts to free her.

April 4, 2013

-By John DeFore


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1374698-Free-Angela-Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A Black Power icon is celebrated more than examined in Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Shola Lynch's involving account of how Angela Davis found herself first on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, then the hero of a global protest movement. More limited in scope than 2011’s Black Power Mixtape, which also conjured this exciting moment in American history, it likely has a smaller audience than that film but will be welcomed on small screens.

Benefitting from lengthy present-day interviews with Davis, the film introduces us to a young woman who left Birmingham, Alabama, for college just before civil-rights upheaval, then found herself studying in Germany before realizing she needed to be in her own country to participate in social change. Ample news clips capture the revolutionary spirit surrounding the Black Panthers, but Davis recounts a scene that was at first hard to join—with her academic background, she was treated as an outsider until connecting with the Che-Lumumba Club.

Davis found the spotlight when, as an assistant prof at UCLA, she was fired for her membership in the Communist Party. She became an outspoken advocate of the Soledad Brothers, three black prisoners accused of killing a guard, and fell in love with one of them, George Jackson. When Jackson's teenage brother Jonathan attempted to free the three men in a raid that resulted in the death of a Superior Court judge—and used guns bought by Davis—Davis was immediately accused of participating in the plot. She went on the run, hiding her distinctive Afro, but was caught in New York City and imprisoned without bail.

With the film devoting so much time to the U.S. government's pursuit and prosecution of Davis, and to the personalities who mounted her defense and rallied international support, it's interesting how little we hear about the event in question. Davis's decision to own guns is easily understood—her notoriety made her the victim of routine threats—but the doc offers no explanation of how those guns might have wound up being used in the raid, and never shows Davis denying knowledge of Jonathan Jackson's plan.

"No one knows the full truth of what happened," Lynch says in the doc's press kit, which states that "for the first time, [Davis] gives her fullest account of what happened." But that won't jibe with the impressions of viewers who arrive with a critical eye or without knowing the story. Free Angela Davis seems to assume that the viewer either intuits her innocence or believes Jackson's plot was righteous enough that prosecuting a possible participant was the same as persecuting a dissident thinker.

An all-white jury eventually found Davis not guilty, of course. Lynch ends her film there, leaving those who are new to this story wondering what Davis did with the rest of her life, and whether her work (and that of the nameless "political prisoners" referred to in the film's title but barely discussed) had an impact commensurate with the government's fervor for silencing her.
The Hollywood Reporter


Film Review: Free Angela and All Political Prisoners

Documentary focuses less on the facts of the Angela Davis case than on efforts to free her.

April 4, 2013

-By John DeFore


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1374698-Free-Angela-Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A Black Power icon is celebrated more than examined in Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Shola Lynch's involving account of how Angela Davis found herself first on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, then the hero of a global protest movement. More limited in scope than 2011’s Black Power Mixtape, which also conjured this exciting moment in American history, it likely has a smaller audience than that film but will be welcomed on small screens.

Benefitting from lengthy present-day interviews with Davis, the film introduces us to a young woman who left Birmingham, Alabama, for college just before civil-rights upheaval, then found herself studying in Germany before realizing she needed to be in her own country to participate in social change. Ample news clips capture the revolutionary spirit surrounding the Black Panthers, but Davis recounts a scene that was at first hard to join—with her academic background, she was treated as an outsider until connecting with the Che-Lumumba Club.

Davis found the spotlight when, as an assistant prof at UCLA, she was fired for her membership in the Communist Party. She became an outspoken advocate of the Soledad Brothers, three black prisoners accused of killing a guard, and fell in love with one of them, George Jackson. When Jackson's teenage brother Jonathan attempted to free the three men in a raid that resulted in the death of a Superior Court judge—and used guns bought by Davis—Davis was immediately accused of participating in the plot. She went on the run, hiding her distinctive Afro, but was caught in New York City and imprisoned without bail.

With the film devoting so much time to the U.S. government's pursuit and prosecution of Davis, and to the personalities who mounted her defense and rallied international support, it's interesting how little we hear about the event in question. Davis's decision to own guns is easily understood—her notoriety made her the victim of routine threats—but the doc offers no explanation of how those guns might have wound up being used in the raid, and never shows Davis denying knowledge of Jonathan Jackson's plan.

"No one knows the full truth of what happened," Lynch says in the doc's press kit, which states that "for the first time, [Davis] gives her fullest account of what happened." But that won't jibe with the impressions of viewers who arrive with a critical eye or without knowing the story. Free Angela Davis seems to assume that the viewer either intuits her innocence or believes Jackson's plot was righteous enough that prosecuting a possible participant was the same as persecuting a dissident thinker.

An all-white jury eventually found Davis not guilty, of course. Lynch ends her film there, leaving those who are new to this story wondering what Davis did with the rest of her life, and whether her work (and that of the nameless "political prisoners" referred to in the film's title but barely discussed) had an impact commensurate with the government's fervor for silencing her.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Amira & Sam
Film Review: Amira & Sam

A potentially intriguing interracial love story between an ex-soldier and Middle Eastern lass feels much too forced and contrived. More »

The Devils Violinist
Film Review: The Devil's Violinist

The latest classical-music legend to have his life trashed–again—by a cheaply sensationalistic movie, this famed fiddler deserved way better. More »

Backstreet Boys
Film Review: Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of

The ’90s boy band dusts itself off for a self-congratulatory, and not especially revelatory, career retrospective on the occasion of their 20th anniversary tour. More »

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts 2015
Film Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary

The long shadow and in-your-face reality of mortality shadows nearly all the entries in this year’s powerful, draining Oscar-nominated documentary short films program. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Project Almanac
Film Review: Project Almanac

Saying this underbaked Chronicle knockoff is meant for teenagers is an insult to the intelligence of teenagers everywhere. More »

The Wedding Ringer
Film Review: The Wedding Ringer

Intermittently amusing bro-comedy trifle that confirms Kevin Hart's talent, though not his taste in material. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here