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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Shola Lynch: So the overarching theme is that it’s a political crime drama with a love story in the middle.

Zeinabu Davis: Yeah, I like you talking about it as a political crime drama.  That’s going to hook a lot of people who might not necessarily come see it into it.

Shola Lynch: It’s not supposed to be a dry something with facts.  It is a story and it has a narrative, and it will take you somewhere.  It’s up to you to decide whether you agree with the choices that she makes, it’s up to you to decide whether you like her or not.  I’m not interested in any of that.  I just want to tell a really good story about a woman who you see finding her power, which, to me, is powerful.  You know, it doesn’t matter whether I agree with all her choices, or any of that.

Zeinabu Davis: That’s a very strong statement.  I’m glad that you’re making that point.  I think it is important for all of us to think about and interrogate, talk about it.

Shola Lynch: The take-away is up to you.  I’m not going to try and tell you how to feel about it.  But I want to show you the process, the process of seeing this woman, and the repercussions and the results, and – in terms of politics, and in terms of her individual choice, you know, it’s been – so it’s layered.  It was a very complicated story to tell.  But also, you don’t feel any of that when you watch. [laughs]

Zeinabu Davis: Okay.  You, Angela and Jada in some cases are touring with the film and speaking to audiences.  Who have been some of your favorite audiences, and what are some of the audience reactions to the film?

Shola Lynch: I have to say that I have just loved the audiences.  When you show up at the theater, and it’s sold out, and people are rushing to get in, it’s a really great feeling for a filmmaker.  Then at the end of the film, for the audience to often give Angela a standing ovation, but also to be so moved by the film itself, is incredible.  If people come out because they want to see celebrities and they want to meet Angela, that’s fine, as long as they watch the film.  [laughs]  Jada has been very generous to use her celebrity for good.  There are a lot of celebrities that don’t do that. I am very grateful that she’s shown up for this project.  Stood up and shown up for this project.  You can’t complain at all about that.

Zeinabu Davis: Is it different, though, seeing it with, like, European audiences than with American audiences?

Shola Lynch: Oh, my God, yes.  In Europe, Angela Davis is a rock star.  They love their intellectuals.  So people come out, it was standing room only in France.  [laughs] More people rushing in, and at one screening, a group of young people rushed in and staged a protest against the theater for being too bourgeois and not having enough young people and people of color being able to buy tickets; something like that.  I couldn’t have scripted it better, right?  

Zeinabu Davis: Oh, wow.

Shola Lynch: In the U.S., people are turning out, but they don’t know what to expect and they don’t know as much about her story.  Whereas the Europeans, especially, the socialists and communists, so the folks on the left, they’ve had so little to celebrate lately that Angela Davis showing up is just like something!

Zeinabu Davis: Okay.  Right. [laughs]

Shola Lynch: Yeah.  But we don’t have a communist or a socialist party here, really.

Zeinabu Davis:  So that’s very different.  What are your hopes for the film at - for the release next week?  Who do you want to see it and why?

Shola Lynch: Listen.  Oh, gosh.  Oh, that’s hard.  Oh, that’s a hard question!

Zeinabu Davis: [laughs]

Shola Lynch: Because the fact is, there’s not a who, necessarily.  I don't want to limit the audience, you know what I mean?  I made the film for me, and I’m a woman, and I’m black.  A black woman.  So I feel like, this is for women of color and it is for women.  It’s an example of seeing somebody find their power.  Women will bring their partners and boyfriends and husbands and kids.  Hopefully the film is constructed in a way that whether you know who she is or you don’t, it’s a good story, and it leaves you with something to think about.

Zeinabu Davis: In your press materials, it stated that Angela saw the Chisholm film, and that was a part of why she agreed to do the project.  Can you talk a little bit about how you got her to be a part of the project?

Shola Lynch: Oh, yeah.  Well, one, I knew I wasn’t going to tell the story without her.  That was, like, I wasn’t interested in that.  Her voice had to be part of the telling of her story.  It sounds obvious, but you know, it doesn’t always work out that way.  I wrote e-mails, and letters, and blah, blah, blah, how I was able to do it twofold, it’s more that I was able to get access to people that were close to her, and convince them first.  That is a little bit different from Chisholm.  I had to go directly to Chisholm.  But this was, you needed to get through Angela’s gatekeepers first.  I don’t think it was anything I said – my pitch or anything like that.  I really believe it was when she finally sat down and made the time to watch the Chisholm documentary, which I sent her multiple copies of, because she kept losing them.

Both: [laughter]

Shola Lynch: I mean, they would get lost in the stack of things she had to do.  It was just like, all right, let me just send another one.  She finally saw it, and after that, she said, let’s meet.  Then what she said was, “I thought I knew her (Shirley Chisholm’s) story.”  But it’s the way she said it, made me realize that she was also saying that about herself and her story.  Then she said I will consent to an interview and she gave me an opportunity, basically.  So at that point, she was on board.  I had creative control, because she had to trust me, and I don’t think she could have trusted me without the previous work. In other words, that it was going to be a serious history.  In other words, that I wasn’t just going to paint her – put her up on a pedestal or paint her as a commie devil.  I really was interested in telling a good history.  Telling a story, and telling it in a compelling way.  Because imagine if you lived this life, and you had all of these strong feelings about it, and then you watched a film that sucks.  How disappointing is that? Why put yourself through the agony?

Zeinabu Davis: Right, exactly.

Shola Lynch:.  So I felt, I felt the responsibility to at least create a film that I liked.  It just took a long time.  I mean, there were points where I would have loved to have quit.  You know, and  put out into  the world a half-baked idea and it would have been okay, because people would have been like, well, it’s a film about Angela.  But I couldn’t – I didn’t want to, I couldn’t live with myself if I did that.  

Zeinabu Davis: Right, I hear you.

Shola Lynch: I had to see it through to a film that I liked, and it just took a while.

Zeinabu Davis: Yeah.  Well, they always do. [laughs] They always do, right?  Yep.  

Shola Lynch:. It’s true.  But I think it was the work that convinced her.  I don’t think it was anything else, because certainly I didn’t have a personal relationship with her.  People are like, do you know her? Are you part of the family? I’m like, no.

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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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