Civil rights activist and nationally-renowned scholar Angela Davis will share her story, including her time as a political prisoner in the 1970s, during a Q&A and panel discussion following a sold-out screening of her most recent documentary, “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners,” tonight at Pollock Theater.
An educator, activist and author, Davis has taught at several universities. She currently acts as a history of consciousness professor at UC Santa Cruz and formerly acted as the director of the Feminist Studies Department. While Davis holds a history of controversial involvement with the Black Panthers and the Communist Party, her activist efforts rose to a new level of fame after she was arrested for murder charges in relation to the killing of a federal judge.
The 1970 incident, which took place at Marin County courthouse in Northern California, led to Davis being listed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list and eventually facing charges for aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder. Davis was acquitted of all charges, but the event inspired her to protest the American prison industrial complex, in addition to her studying and advocacy of other topics such as feminist rights, African American studies and Marxism.
The documentary, “Free Angela,” tells the story of Davis’ implication in the attempted kidnapping and death of Superior Court Judge Harold Haley. The event involved the intense racial tensions of the time, as Haley’s actual killers attempted to kidnap him following a string of violent, racially-charged incidents at nearby Soledad prison.
Directed by Shola Lynch and co-produced by entertainment figures such as Will Smith and Jay-Z, the film follows Davis’ transition from a political prisoner to emeritus professor at UC Santa Cruz. Davis, who was a vice presidential candidate for the Communist Party in two 1980s elections, was fired from her post as a UCLA professor in 1969 due to her involvement with the Communist Party. She returned to her post when a judge ruled she could not be fired for her political affiliations, but was fired again in 1970 for using “inflammatory language” in four different speeches.
Tonight’s event is sponsored by the Carsey-Wolf Center and the new company Sol Sisters Rising (SSR), an organization founded by a group of women seeking to bridge the gap between women of color and the film industry. The screening acts as the inaugural event for the SSR, which was started by Ingrid Banks, associate professor of the Black Studies Department, along with associate professor Gaye Theresa Johnson and their partner Kim Bluitt. Additionally, the film’s producer, Sidra Smith, will also attend tonight’s screening and the following panel discussion with Davis.
Banks said the film industry can oftentimes fail to serve all individuals equally, regardless of race and gender, so SSR seeks to address how the industry ignores women of color and how it can better serve this demographic.
“What we want to do is provide a platform for women of color to distribute their films,” Banks said. “We’re creating an archive of films that are by, and about, women of color.”
According to the SSR website, the scholarly work of Davis can help connect the progressive visions of internationalist movements in the underdeveloped world, the women’s movement and the legacy of the Black Radical Tradition.
Banks said she chose to screen this film at their inaugural event because the documentary itself will help students see history as an ongoing process in which they are direct participants. Taking a look at Davis’ struggles, and then relating to them, can help one better understand contemporary struggles surrounding political imprisonment and racial profiling.
According to Banks, after students and attendees watch the film, they will understand how a citizen’s rights can be withheld.
“That’s happening today in the early 21st century,” Banks said. “We’re talking early 1970s … when Davis was going through her struggles, and we’re still going through those same struggles now.”
Fourth-year black studies major Lauren O’Brien said she is excited to see Davis, as the radical scholar’s well-known and controversial career is one that O’Brien has only read about or seen in television and film, “It is very different to see the person in real life.”
The screening of “Free Angela” acts as the first in a series of film screenings. The next screening will be hosted by the MultiCultural Center.
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of Thursday October 10, 2013′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.