In her early life, Davis always seemed just one step away from being involved in hugely shifting tides of the '50s and '60s. She moved north from Birmingham and then went abroad to study just as the civil rights movement exploded. But upon her return, involvement in political struggle wouldn't be too far behind. Hired as the assistant professor of philosophy at UCLA, she was open about her affiliations, stating that she was a communist. This, combined with her supposed ties to the Black Panther party (a group she actually had limited involvement with, opposing their ideals of nationalism and a general gender divide within the organization that put men first), was enough to fire up a campaign to have her ousted from her job. And indeed she was, but this was the battle before the war.
Lynch's film certainly goes above and beyond in terms of laying out almost every angle of the case, with in-depth interviews from Davis herself to her friends, lawyers, the judge on the case and more. She also expands her scope outward to include how the story was playing out in the media, and though it's clear where Lynch's sympathy lies, it soon becomes clear that this case was also a highly symbolic battle between the government and those who were resisting and questioning everything from the Vietnam war to the treatment of blacks in America. It's pretty riveting stuff, but Lynch's film does leave a few questions unanswered.
Foremost, it's never made clear why Davis had purchased four guns, even if she wasn't directly involved in the Soledad brothers incident. 'Free Angela Davis' makes the argument that due to the many death threats she received, she bought the weapons for protection. And while that is more than likely the case, given her ties to George Jackson and the simple fact they were used, the film never resolves (or asks her directly) what the true nature of her involvement was.
But these minor quibbles aside, on the whole, "Free Angela & All Political Prisoners" is about as comprehensive a doc as you could ask for. Lynch's film allows the actions of Davis -- via archival footage -- coupled with her current reflections on everything that happened, to stand on their own in presenting the activist, feminist and icon as an individual of true strength and resilience. What is most remarkable in this journey is how her faith in her beliefs never wavers, and her fearlessness in the face of criticism, doubt and taking stances that truly put her life in danger.
Confidently constructed, and aided by an assured focus, "Free Angela & All Political Prisoners" is a solid tribute a woman who was one of many vital pieces of the civil rights movement, and an insightful study of a time when the American identity -- both politically and socially -- was being drastically reshaped. [B]
This is a reprint of our review from TIFF.