SL: Yes. Orlando Bagwell was incredible because early on he said, you know, “Listen, Shola, I think this is a great idea. I love your trailer,” and, “We’ll come in with finishing funds.” And I called him up one day and I don’t know how this – he actually picked up the phone. It was total, it was total luck, cause I’d always send him update emails. Anyway, we were talking and he reiterated the finishing funds, and then I was like, “If I don’t get starting funds, this is never gonna happen.” And he said, “ooooh.” And then he laughed, he’s like, “Oh yeah, I’ve been there before.” So basically I got started with the first round of interviews because of the Ford Foundation.
WaH: When I was first watching the movie I was having all these problems with my internet, and it kept starting and stopping and starting and stopping and I kept having to go back. Every time I started it, the music would come in and it just gave me chills every time I heard it. So talk to me about that music, is it original?
SL: Let me tell you. When I first thought about this the first sound that came into my mind – because I had also worked on the jazz project with Ken Burns, and so I knew something about jazz – and Abby Lincoln and Max Roach made an album called We Insist. And she has the most intense blood curdling scream that is filled with emotion. And this album is about a history of black people in the American made in the ‘60s by Abby Lincoln and Max Roach. And the scream that’s – the sound. I mean we’re talking about a horrific crime that happens where people are killed. And no matter what side of this you’re on, nobody was really interested in that kind of bloodshed. But her scream says more to me. And then the Max Roach estate basically got behind it and allowed us to license it. The other music is original. It’s composed by Vernon Reed.
WaH: It all feels very organic. So you’ve discovered and learned more than anyone about her. What was it about her that made this country go whack-a-doodle?
SUB: I think it is because she is so incredibly self-possessed. Then. Even now. And she’s not apologetic. Imagine that period. What images of black people did you see? She does not fit any stereotype, and in fact, I can imagine that that was absolutely infuriating. And on top of it she was better educated than most Americans. She had been trained in Europe as a philosopher. She spoke two languages. So I can imagine that she’s a great irritant and she’s really just so self-possessed and good looking. And the rest of us schlubs, you know, there’s that.
And then also in that period I can imagine that here’s a woman that's got everything we’re talking about for the civil rights movement. Why isn’t she the poster child for what’s great in America? But you can’t control people. Right? So I think that’s also an aspect. That she had all these advantages and was critical.
WaH: She’s a transitional figure in the movement.
SL: Absolutely. Absolutely.
WaH: What was the thing that you learned that astonished you the most?
SL: Two things. One, that Angela herself has been incredibly consistent all these years. The story she told back then, as far as I have investigated, is still the story.
WaH: Remind people exactly of the story.
SL: She was accused of being the master-mind for this crime. The way that she talks about it now is the way that she talked about it then. And there really aren’t inconsistencies in that. There’s also the four-year request for the FBI files.
WaH: Please explain.
SL: Angela's never requested her FBI files. So she gave me a waiver to get her files. So I have five giant boxes of – and the greatest, the fascinating thing about the FBI is they document everything. So they’re an absolute record of truth, in a way, and then there’s your interpretation of these facts. There’s a timeline, it’s really meticulous. She is who she says she is. That is the first thing that astonished and kind of shocked me. Because you always find out something.
The second thing is the government really felt under siege in this period, whether you’re talking about Ronald Reagan or Nixon. And they were having a hard time distinguishing between communists and radical left which was anti-Vietnam. They really felt like there was a revolution going on. The kids -- they lumped all the kids together -- which was their mistake. And their response was, “These kids are acting badly and they need to be punished. It was intense. We found in the files that Nixon was talking about her in the White House. That was unbelievable to me. And when they found out that the gun was registered her name, Halderman wrote in his diary, “P, thrilled.” President thrilled. Because it means it proves the conspiracy to them. I wouldn’t have believed it.
WaH: I was shocked by the quote from Nixon's secretary. Rosemary Woods I was just like, “Okay, if this woman was talking about this, she was talking about a lot of other shit.”
WaH: She was not a –
SL: Wallflower. And the thing is, I’m not trying to make the government the bad guy. I think the believed they were doing the right thing. But you have to balance all these perspectives together so that nobody seems absolutely crazy. Cause it’s a crazy period.
WaH: What do you want people to learn from this movie?
SL: I want people to learn – well learn something about the story, of course, but I want the take away to be the questions that are raised watching her make these choices, watching what happens, and examining your own life. Like where do we need to stand up and we don’t? Where do we need to be conscious of our choices and are not? She did not sleepwalk through her life. And that is what I find to be admirable. And that’s something – and as women we don’t get to see that on the screen. I mean we’re starved for some – we’re starved. And when people say, “Who is the audience for this?” and I was like, “Are you kidding?”
WaH: Well, it’s also kind of like what you’re saying is this is a story that everybody needs to see.
SL: And let me tell you, that’s how Jada got on board. She saw the film, she was like, “Oh my gosh, I thought I knew this story. I didn’t.” And her daughter Willow walked into the room while she watching it, and she was like, “Oh my, if I don’t know anything how is she gonna know anything?” And then she made Will watch it. And he was like “You want me to watch this leftie” blah blah blah and then he’s like, “Okay okay okay okay.” And then he got into it. So it’s going to be women who bring their partners, their families, their friends. I mean that’s just the kind of story it is. And there are a lot of us. And whether we agree with her or not, whether we agree with her choices, I hope what I’ve provided in the film is a good ride.