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

Shadow and Act By Zeinabu irene Davis | Shadow and Act February 27, 2014 at 10:17AM

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

This article is related to: Shola Lynch


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