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Interview: Shola Lynch and 'Free Angela' - From Thought To Screen (Premiered On BET Last Night)

Interviews
by Zeinabu irene Davis
February 27, 2014 10:17 AM
11 Comments
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Zeinabu Davis:  The last time I saw you was a few years ago at an NBPC event, and Saint Clair Bourne was working with you on the project.  Would you like to say anything about your relationship with him and his work with you?  

Shola Lynch: You know, I have been thinking about him a lot lately, and what he did with Black Documentary Collective, which was so important to my personal growth as a filmmaker, because he brought other filmmakers in to talk about their work.  People that I never would have had access to. And, you know, I just got back from France, and I have been thinking a lot about the time he brought Melvin Van Peebles to talk about Classified X.  We had this really intense discussion about blackness and imagery and making films, and he was like, I had to go abroad to get this funded, you know, if you can get abroad, you do it.  And here’s this story about Angela Davis and a third of the budget comes from France.  There was no way to raise the money here initially.  But I could get a little bit from the Ford Foundation, a little bit from granting organizations, but not enough to start, not enough to get fully into the production.  By accident, I got tacked in with some French producers, and they were like, we think we can help you raise money, and they raised a third of the budget in France.  This allowed me to take all of that – all of the funds that we had raised, and come back and leverage the rest of the funding.  To my great surprise, you know, BET stepped up and put a significant amount of money into the production to get us over the hump for the television rights.  

Zeinabu Davis: Wow, yeah.

Shola Lynch:  This has never been a TV show for me.  The thought has always been that this is about getting a film on the big screen.  So what’s happening now is well, truthfully, beyond my dream.

Zeinabu Davis:  That’s great!  I’m really proud of you and happy for you that this release is   happening.  You’re breaking ground by having BET and Overbrook and Roc Nation be partners with you on the film.  And I was surprised because for most people, I still think Angela is a very controversial subject.

Shola Lynch: Right.

Zeinabu Davis: You know, so I’m just curious, why do you think that these celebrities or companies decided to support the film?

Shola Lynch: Well, I – you know, I have to say that BET took a huge risk, because they came in before the film existed.  So it’s like a trailer and an idea and, like, a proposal.   Loretha Jones and [Charlie Gordon Brookins?], and, of course, under the leadership of Deborah Lee, they had faith.  They put their money where their mouth was.  There were no celebrities attached, it was just Angela.  I think BET’s brand is unafraid of controversy.  For better or for worse, right?  

Zeinabu Davis: Yeah, right.  

Shola Lynch: So they weren’t afraid of that.  They really allowed me the space as a filmmaker to make the film that I wanted to make.  Now, as we were getting close to finishing, it was close and the cost of licensing all of this footage was just – we didn’t have enough money.  So it was then, that I sent out a Hail Mary e-mail to everybody involved with the project.  Everybody who ever said, oh, girl, I can help you raise some money.  One of my friends from the neighborhood up in Harlem said, I think I can help you raise money, I know certain people.  She’s very well connected in the celebrity world, a world I am not a part of, right?  And she said, I think Jada would be into it, can I send it to her?  I said, yeah, you can send it to her, but honestly, you know, celebs are not going to attach themselves with such a controversial figure.  There’s no way, but why not?  And I think – and, and, and Jada’s response was like, “I’m in.  This is incredible.  I thought I knew this story.  People need to know this. “ What Jada liked about it,  is that it is about this powerful woman, and she’s also black, and it deals with  black history, but it’s also about power to the people.  You know, where’d that white farmer come from?  

Zeinabu Davis: Yeah, I know that was a great surprise.

Shola Lynch:  There are all of these surprises in the story that make it very clear that, yes, this is a story about a black woman, but it is also a human story.  It is a story about justice more broadly.  Jada was like, I’m in, I’m down.  And I was like, really?  Oh, my God.  She’s been a woman of her word.  I mean, she brought her husband, Will Smith in.  And they brought, Jay-Z in.   I love the fellas, but it doesn’t happen without the ladies.  Let’s be clear on that.  It’s when women stand up for women’s stories that we’ll have more of them.  Because this would not happen without the women executives at BET – and then the distribution would not have happened without Jada standing up and using her celebrity power for good, you know what I mean?  

Zeinabu Davis: Wow.  That’s an inspiration right there.

Shola Lynch: The other thing is, I am – I think I get this from being an athlete – is I’m not afraid of being rejected, and I’m not afraid of “no.”  I will always ask for what I want.  The amazing thing that sometimes happens is you get it.  You know what I mean?  I’m not talking about being entitled, I’m not talking about being foolish, for instance, when BET came to me, I said, don’t waste my time.  You all are notorious for, like, chump change.  I need to finish this film.  Next year is the 40th anniversary of Angela’s acquittal.  Don’t waste my time.  Loretha Jones called me up directly after I said that, and said, Shola, we are serious.  We want you to make this film.  And she said, how much do you need?  I gave her the number.  She said, fine.  Let’s work it out.  I was like, whoa.  ‘Cause sometimes, you know, you do have to be direct.  

Zeinabu Davis: Sho nuff!

Shola Lynch:. I wasn’t kidding.  I was just, like, don’t waste my time!  I was so frustrated with the funding and things.

Zeinabu Davis: I know, I know, I know.  And it’s funny, ‘cause I – I just watched your Shirley Chisholm film again yesterday (Chisholm ’72: Unbossed and Unbought), and I’m thinking to myself, oh, I know Shirley would be so proud of you for just going out and saying that, that’s how she was.  [laughs]

Shola Lynch: Exactly.  That’s what history does for us.  When we know these stories, in a fuller way, not just facts, when the people, the characters are human beings, and they have positives and negatives and nuances to whatever their story was, then they become part of our family, and we get fortified by them.  I’m sure Shirley Chisholm influenced me and her ability to just be like, okay, I’m going to do this, you know? I’m going to ask.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Somebody says no to you?  Boo-hoo.  You know, find another way.  Don’t take it personally.  Make it happen.  You know, too many people are like, oh, I’ll never get this and then they never get their dreams off the ground.

Zeinabu Davis: That’s right.

Shola Lynch:. And honestly, then, they only have themselves to blame for that.  We have to find a way to be confident enough to follow through on the things that are really important to us.

Zeinabu Davis: Okay.  I hear you, that’s important advice for all of us whether or not we are filmmakers! I really appreciated the re-enactment scenes that you have in the film.

Shola Lynch: Thank you!!!

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11 Comments

  • marie-francoise | April 9, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    What a wonderful inspiring piece! All aspects were delved into... idea, process, production and finally getting your 'baby' out in the world. I'm sure the doc is amazing but this interview was insightful all on its own. Thank you shadow & act for making this forum possible...

    As a mother and a filmmaker/actress I especially appreciated the conversation about being a mom and being an artist. It felt very hopeful and positive. I also really loved when Shola said: "I’m tired of people telling me there’s no audience for stories about women and no black women, especially. You know what I mean? I’m so sick of that." ME TOO!! I was fortunate enough to meet Shola many years ago in Minnesota at an IFP event right after her first doc came out and she was friendly and approachable. I've also had the huge good fortune to know and work with the inimitable Dr. Zeinabu irene Davis -- thank you sis for providing such a thought-provoking in depth interview! I'm off to see the film this weekend :)

  • Lia | April 8, 2013 4:59 PMReply

    This interview is so inspiring, full of true creative wisdom...

  • Bee | April 7, 2013 9:23 PMReply

    Great interview. Can't wait to see this!

  • Terri Francis | April 6, 2013 4:18 PMReply

    Wow wow what a beautiful beautiful interview. Thank you so much! Yes, power to the people.

  • Charles David Brooks, III | April 6, 2013 12:15 PMReply

    It is difficult to read page 5. Did she talk about Angela days in Brooklyn, NY?

  • T. | April 5, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    Oh, my, my, my!!!! What a beautiful interview. I felt like I was listening...watching two great sistahs who have been on the journey and decided to share some of the "inside story" about filmmaking!!! What a pleasure and an honor---to you both. The interview flowed so well--just the right amount of questions and the questions perfectly asked which gave us a wealth of info in Shola's answers. Thank you. I liken this interview to a "page turner" in a great work of literature...with each advance to the next page, I wanted more! I was touched by the analogy of a Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, we have those in our families who don't know how much breadth and depth they have to tell us. The true griots. The main theme of the film is not so much about family---well for me--it is rooted in family and relationships. I don't believe Ms. Davis would have survived without her family. The inclusion of the family relationships was really a plus in reading this interview. I can go on and on and on. And I will. I will tell every person of interest about this interview and about the documentary. Again, thank you. Well done. And shout outs to all who made the film possible. What a gift to us all!

  • urbanauteur | April 5, 2013 4:26 PMReply

    Big shut out 2 you,Zeinabu, and @ Ohio(film dept) Univ-John Butler-Mabel Haddock-Robert Banks,jr..;-)

  • Sergio | April 5, 2013 12:16 PMReply

    FANTASTIC interview!

  • sergio | April 5, 2013 1:23 PM

    One of the great things is that you really had the time to talk to her. Nowadays they give you usually 15-20 minutes to talk with a filmmaker. You really need time to get into and discuss the filmmaking process which make your interview with Shola (whom I've met before and is just a energetic terrific person) so unique.

    See you soon here for the L.A. Rebellion film series!

  • Zeinabu Davis | April 5, 2013 1:04 PM

    Thank you so much Sergio! I really want people to know and honor Shola's accomplishments as well as to learn and share about Angela Davis and the Power to the People movement, especially since it is still so relevant to things going on today. We had a sneak preview of the film last night here in San Diego. Shola, Angela, Jada and all would have been proud. A documentary film brought people together from nearly all the colleges and universities in San Diego! It was a diverse crowd - elders, kids, Black, white, Latino and Asian. We had a long and fruitful discussion afterwards.

  • Zeinabu Davis | April 5, 2013 1:04 PM

    Thank you so much Sergio! I really want people to know and honor Shola's accomplishments as well as to learn and share about Angela Davis and the Power to the People movement, especially since it is still so relevant to things going on today. We had a sneak preview of the film last night here in San Diego. Shola, Angela, Jada and all would have been proud. A documentary film brought people together from nearly all the colleges and universities in San Diego! It was a diverse crowd - elders, kids, Black, white, Latino and Asian. We had a long and fruitful discussion afterwards.

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