Even Revolutionaries Need Sisters

Michaela Angela Davis recounts what Shola Lynch went through to produce Free Angela.

Her Peabody Award for Chisholm ‘72: Unbought and Unbossed has a fresh new friend, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary - Theatrical for Free Angela: And All Political Prisoners. Film director, producer and curator Shola Lynch is a Black woman deeply interested in telling heroic and human stories about Black women. Easier said than done. If it were easy, certainly there would be more, more Black women directing Black woman’s narratives for the big screens.

Movie making is a complicated and expensive undertaking – having resources and access to the right people in the right places is critical. Fortunately for Free Angela and all who tune in (it’s premiering as a part of the new BET weekly movie night franchise Keep It Reel, which will begin airing each and every Wednesday at 10P/9C), Shola Lynch made the right girl friends in the right positions at the right time.

Even with a slick, sexy and smart script along with a sensational sizzle reel for a film about Angela Davis, a contemporary American revolutionary figure of near mythological proportions, Lynch was struggling to find the backing to go into full production. Money is probably 99 of all the problems for most filmmakers, especially those making documentaries, but Shola was a proven and damn good filmmaker (scoring an Emmy for the HBO doc Do You Believe in Miracles, among many other successes) and this project was about one of the most fascinating women in the world and the movement that supported her. Her story was complicated, dangerous, sexy and true. And she was alive to legitimize it, not to mention we already had the T-shirt. Yet when looking for investors, Shola often heard “Who would want to see a film about Angela Davis?” A logical question, I guess, seeing as how there are not a whole lot of examples of films about sophisticated, international, public intellectual, communist, beautiful, feminist, Black female scholars who aren’t broke and broken out there. But Loretha Jones, President of Original Programming for BET (and former EVP of MTV Films/Paramount Pictures) had the answer: Let’s start with Black women. Upon hearing of Shola’s plans to make a doc about Davis and knowing Lynch’s pedigree as a director and producer, Lynch said Loretha simply asked her “What do you need?” 

Clearly, she needed someone who not only believed in the story, but also believed in the audience that could support it. Jones made the executive and gangster decision for BET to invest significantly and early in Free Angela. Because of the initial financial support and the broadcast platform from the network, Shola was able to literally free her film from concept and go into full-blown production mode.

Shola attributes an impressive cadre of Black women to helping make Free Angela come to fruition. In addition to the the fly trifecta from BET — Debra Lee (Chairman and CEO of BET Networks), Loretha Jones and Charlie Jordan Brookins (SVP of Original Programming) — producer and socialite Sidra Smith got a hold of the movement and was instrumental in attracting Jada Pinkett Smith (Overbrook Entertainment) and a few good fellas, Will Smith and Jay Z and his Roc Nation, to come on as producers too. The film also had substantial support from French investors and producers, including Canal Plus.

Free Angela opened as a bona fide smash at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2011. It was later acquired by distributors CodeBlack, a Lionsgate Company, for the theatrical run, and would enjoy widespread global critical acclaim (the film was in theaters in France for over 19 weeks, an impressive stint for a documentary).

And on February 26 at 10 p.m. EST, the revolution will indeed be televised on BET.

(Photo: CodeBlack Films)

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