Category Archives: African American Documentary

‘Free Angela’ revels in Angela Davis’ political rise and liberation

Activist Angela Davis attends Black Girls Rock! 2011 at the Paradise Theater on October 15, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by John W. Ferguson/Getty Images)

by Courtney Garcia

Many words describe Angela Davis – radical, intellectual, Communist, feminist, rebel, scholar, revolutionary– but the story of her life can be defined by one: justice.

As a civil rights activist and prison abolitionist, Davis has spent decades fighting for a fair society, and in the process, circumventing the systematic prejudices she so fervently denounces. In the new documentaryFree Angela and All Political Prisoners, filmmaker Shola Lynch explores the moment 41 years ago that Davis became an international political icon, a woman both exalted and vilified as she fought for the right to assert her beliefs, her speech and consequently her liberty.

“In the landscape of that period, when you think about political figures, when you think about mass media figures, there are very few examples, if any, of strong women,” Lynch tells theGrio. “Let alone strong black women.”

The movie centers on Davis’ implication in a courthouse murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy effort on August 7, 1970 in Marin County, California, the trial that ensued thereafter and Davis’ eventual acquittal. Though only 26 years old at the time, it was the culmination of a riotous period in Davis’ life, where she had already been labeled a terrorist by the government, and fired from her job as a professor at UCLA.

“Angela Davis is associated with [the Black Panthers] and she stands up for her rights and her beliefs,” Lynch explains. “It starts with UCLA and standing up for her job. It went against the school policy and the law, I’m pretty sure, for the school to try and fire her for being a Communist…That’s what democracy is all about, that we have freedom of speech, and academic freedom, within the context of the university, to discuss ideas that may or may not be popular. So, the idea that she was standing up for her rights unequivocally is very attractive.”

After receiving death threats for her socialist ties, Davis was linked to George Jackson, a Panther and member of the Soledad Brothers trio, when a gun she’d purchased for defense was used during his courthouse ambush. Several people were killed, and Davis was indicted for her connection to the crime. She went into hiding following the incident, becoming the third woman ever to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, and was eventually captured and detained without bail as she went on trial.

Lynch spent eight years researching Davis’ story and bringing the film project to fruition. It serves as a recounting of a significant moment in Davis’ life that would influence her future work, and inspire a faction of constituents backing her cause.

“When I started [making the film], it was post 9-11, and there was all this talk about what was a terrorist, and who was a terrorist,” the filmmakers recalls. “What attracted me about this story was that this was a way of discussing it without having the raw emotion of discussing 9-11…It also resonates in the present with prisoners’ rights…In the 70’s, [Davis] was starting to articulate a prisoners’ rights kind of activism that was very new at the time. Talking about prisoners – young men, primarily black and Latino – that had been caught up in petty crimes and now been in prison for extended periods of time.”

“She wanted to call them political prisoners,” Lynch continues. “There were a lot of people on the political side of protesting, and revolution and anti-war that had real discomfort with that because it’s like, ‘Well these people are criminals.’ And so the whole George Jackson story really relates to the situation with prisoners’ rights today, and the increasing prisoner industrial complex.”

As the film shows, Davis became aware of what she felt were discriminatory and inhumane practices infiltrating the criminal justice system during her own detainment. These experiences would provide a framework for her later theories on abolition democracy, camouflaged racism, penal servitude and the extension of slavery through incarceration.

Furthermore, it was this period in Davis’ life that would inspire her organization, Critical Resistance, a crusade to replace prisons with social institutions that remedy conditions dooming many men and women to a life behind bars.

“Her relationship with George Jackson and the Soledad brothers is what started it, and then her own incarceration – those two experiences are pivotal to the direction that her life takes after that,” Lynch observes. “She’s about justice issues, and for her they’re all intertwined. You can’t talk about one justice issue without another… Free Angela is a way to narrow that, and to give Angela a fair trial. That really was the point of the movement.”

The film pulls together images, letters and video clips from Davis’ supporters around the world at the time of her trial, all of whom rallied together for her liberation. Those advocates included Nina Simone, who visited Davis in prison; Aretha Franklin, who offered to pay her bond; John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who wrote a song in her honor; and the countless men, women and children of all ages and races who organized a movement demanding her release. Lynch additionally interviews Davis and her family, her lawyers and old friends, as well as those countering her struggle to fill in details of the historical outline.

Not surprisingly, Davis’ involvement took convincing.

“Her attitude was skeptical,” Lynch remembers. “She doesn’t seem like the kind of person that revisits the past. She’s not living in the past, believe it or not. People have ideas of her from the past, but she lives in the present. She’s a retired professor now; she’s an activist speaking all over the world about, ironically, the same kinds of issues that ‘got her in trouble’ in the 70’s. So, it just took a moment to get her attention.”

Lynch also points to the fact that, from Davis’ point of view, the story was limited. Thus, the documentary was a way for the activist to revisit her narrative from several vantages.

Lynch adds, “There was all this stuff going on around her, whether it’s the government, whether it’s her old lawyers, whether it’s the protests and the Free Angela movement – she never experienced it. She was the beneficiary.”

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 to critical praise, and opens at select theaters in the U.S. on April 5. It was executive-produced by Overbrook Entertainment partners Will Smith, James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Roc Nation, and is being distributed by Codeblack Films and Lionsgate. In addition to its focus on Davis’ exoneration, the production also touches on issues of American civil liberties, gun violence, and the dynamism of a cause célèbre. Though decades past, many of the concerns addressed in the movie still resonate in today’s sociopolitical climate, particularly relating to the national debate on gun control.

“What I couldn’t have anticipated is the amount of gun violence that’s happened in the last few years with lone gun people walking into certain situations, either for political reasons or personal reasons, and initiating a similar kind of gun battle or massacre that happened on August 7,” Lynch admits. “I don’t think there’s any correlation in the sense that this was such a political period…People were motivated by the idea that the revolution was right around the corner, and so it’s not so individualistic. It’s not about crazy, deranged people, but there is a question of guns and how to control them, and how law enforcement responds.”

Nevertheless, the movie, as Lynch notes, is not about the Second Amendment, but primarily the First, and Davis’ momentous, ongoing journey in defending it.

“She doesn’t hesitate,” Lynch remarks. “Just seeing her set that example, seeing her make those choices – to stand up – they are really powerful.”


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Federal Judge Blocks New York City From Getting ‘Central Park Five’ Footage


Yesterday, in a New York City federal court, Judge Ronald Ellis blocked an ongoing attempt by New York City to get its hands on footage obtained by filmmaker Ken Burns, daughter Sarah Burns and son-in-law DavidMcMahon, while making their documentary The Central Park Five.

The city wanted the footage due to a $250 million dollar federal lawsuit against the city, filed by the five men, after their 1989 rape and assault sentences were vacated when they finally proved that they were innocent of the crime, when the real culprit confessed to the crime and DNA evidence supported their claims of innocence.

The city claimed that Burns, the other filmmakers and his production company Florentine Films, were not independent journalists entitled to reporter’s privilege. But Judge Ellis ruled that the filmmakers had “established its independence in the making of the film” and could claim the privilege.

Ellis also said that the city had failed to address the requirements of relevance and significance of the materials it sought and had failed to demonstrate they are not available from another source”.

Burns, after the decision came down, said that he was grateful for the judge’s ruling and that “this adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere.” 

All this, of course, clears the way for the lawsuit against the city to proceed.


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Film explores African-Americans’ unhealthy “soul food” habit

By Harriet McLeod | Reuters 

  • Filmmaker Byron Hurt is pictured with his mother, Frances Hurt, and sister, Taundra Hurt, holding family photos of Hurt's father, Jackie Hurt, who died in 2007 at age 64 as a result of pancreatic cancer in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Bryon Hurt/Handout

    Reuters/Reuters – Filmmaker Byron Hurt is pictured with his mother, Frances Hurt, and sister, Taundra Hurt, holding family photos of Hurt’s father, Jackie Hurt, who died in 2007 at age 64 as a result of pancreatic …more 

(Reuters) – After interviewing food historians, scholars, cooks, doctors, activists and consumers for his new film “Soul Food Junkies,” filmmaker Byron Hurt concluded that an addiction to soul food is killing African-Americans at an alarming rate.

The movie, which will premiere on January 14 on U.S. public broadcasting television, examines how black cultural identity is linked to high-calorie, high-fat food such as fried chicken and barbecued ribs and how eating habits may be changing.

In the deeply personal film, Hurt details his father’s fight and eventual death from pancreatic cancer. A high-fat diet is a risk factor for the illness, according to researchers at Duke University in North Carolina.

“I never questioned what we ate or how much,” 42-year-old New Jersey-based Hurt says in the film that travels from New Jersey and New York to Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Chicago.

“My father went from being young and fit to twice his size.”

Hurt, who also made “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” decided to examine the link between calorie-loaded soul food and illnesses among blacks after his father was diagnosed in 2006.

He delves into his family history, as well as slavery, the African diaspora and the black power movement in the film and provides photographs, drawings, historic film footage and maps.

In Jackson, Mississippi, Hurt joined football fans for ribs and corn cooked with pigs’ feet and turkey necks. He also visited Peaches Restaurant, founded in 1961, where freedom riders and civil rights activists including Martin Luther King Jr. ate.

Hurt, whose family came from Milledgeville, Georgia, grew up on a diet of fried chicken, pork chops, macaroni and cheese, potatoes and gravy, barbecued ribs, sweet potato pie, collard greens, ham hocks and black-eyed peas.

“The history of Southern food is complex,” he said. “In many ways, the term soul food is a reduction of our culinary foodways.”

The origins of the diet lie in the history of American slavery, according to food historian Jessica B. Harris, who appears in the film. Slaves ate a high-fat, high-calorie diet that would allow them to burn 3,000 calories a day working, she explained.

Southern food began to be called soul food during the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s, according to Hurt.

“There’s an emotional connection and cultural pride in what they see as the food their population survived on in difficult times,” he said.

But Hurt said African-Americans are being devastated by nutrition-related diseases.

Black adults have the highest rates of obesity and a higher prevalence of diabetes than whites, and are twice as likely to die of stroke before age 75 than other population groups, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Besides tradition and habit, poverty and neighborhoods without good supermarkets also contribute to an unhealthy diet, Hurt said.

“Low-income communities of color lack access to vegetables and have an overabundance of fast food and highly processed foods that are high in calories and fats. I always know when I’m in a community of color because I see … very, very few supermarkets and health food stores,” he added.

In her book, “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America,” Harris said the prevalence of over processed foods, low-quality meats, and second- or third-rate produce in minority neighborhoods amounts to “culinary apartheid.”

In the film, Marc Lamont Hill, an associate professor of English education at Columbia University in New York, described minority health problems related to poor diet as “21st-century genocide.”

Hurt says the government can help by increasing urban access to quality food and requiring calorie counts to be displayed on restaurant menus.

Nonprofit organizations such as Growing Power Inc., which runs urban farms in Chicago and Milwaukee, provide fresh vegetables to minority neighborhoods.

Brian Ellis, 21, said all he ate was fast food when he started working at one of Growing Power’s urban farms in Chicago when he was 14.

“Then I started eating food I’d never seen before like Swiss chard,” said Ellis, who appears in the film. “I never knew what beets were. I’d never seen sprouts before. I’m not that big of a beet fan, but I love sprouts. I could eat sprouts all day.”

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Mohammad Zargham)


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New documentary about the word ‘Ghetto’ seeks funding

The film “OMG, That’s So Ghetto” will explore the present-day use of the word ghetto while also shedding light on the history of ghettos in the United States.

Nationwide ( — Holocaust survivors, beat cops and reporters, drug dealers, community leaders, activists, writers and even teenagers have one thing in common in this film – a relationship with and an interpretation of the word “ghetto”. This film will depict the director’s tour of the country, asking a myriad of individuals about what the word ghetto means to them. “OMG, That’s So Ghetto” is in the fundraising stages and needs to raise $64,000 in order to finish filming. This film will explore the present-day use of the word ghetto while also shedding light on the history of ghettos in the United States.

“Where did the word originate?” “How did ghettos in the United States form?”

“When did the word become an adjective?” When used, are there undertones signifying race and class differences? How do we remedy the epidemic of the ghettos here in America?

Questions like these will be asked and answered in the film. The film will also feature the lives of individuals affected by the ghetto, both in America and even those who have had experiences with Jewish ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust.

This film aims to challenge stereotypes, highlighting how the poor and underprivileged are viewed and spoken of in this country. The film needs to raise $64,000 and is using the popular crowd-funding site, Kickstarter to do so

( Time is of the essence as the Kickstarter campaign has less than 25 days left, and if the goal is not met, the film will not receive ANY of the funds raised thus far.

Surprisingly, this topic remains unexplored in the cinematic world and the impact that this film will have on the way we view ghettos in America is imperative. Click the link and watch the trailer, and be inspired to join in on the journey and help make this film a reality. Help explore what ghetto means to America and join the ghetto reformation movement.

Xposé Films is a production company based in Los Angeles, Calif. seeking to make films that expose and challenge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart and mind towards various issues facing us in today’s world.

For more information or to contact OnTay for an interview, please contact Lorena Ventura at (424) 224-2115 or email at


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Bob Marley Wanted More Black American Fans, Says Son Ziggy

A scene from the new documentary, “Marley,” shows an all-white crowd gathered to watch Jamaican reggae artist Bob Marley perform in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Even though Marley was influenced by American rhythm and blues artists, his own music was slow to catch on with African-Americans during his lifetime.

“He had issue with it,” Marley’s son Ziggy Marley told “Nightline,” “because he wanted African-Americans to hear his message.”

Bob Marley’s children, band mates, widow and ex-girlfriends help tell his story in the mammoth documentary covering the legendary artist’s humble beginnings in Jamaica and rise to become reggae’s first and biggest international superstar.

“He covers such a wide spectrum of people now, and it keeps growing,” Ziggy Marley said. “He has a message for everybody.  He has a message for the fighters.  He has a message for the peace guys.”

“Nightline” spent the day with Ziggy Marley and other members of the Marley family on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles, where they celebrated the city’s inaugural “Bob Marley Day” and the online and DVD release of “Marley.”

In the morning, Ziggy and his sister Karen Marley accepted a proclamation from Los Angeles City Councilmen Tom LaBonge and Joe Buscaino.

“I can’t believe Ziggy Marley is in the City Hall right here,” Buscaino said, visibly excited. The councilman broke into a version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” on the floor of City Hall.

“It’s great to have a family vibe on Bob Marley day,” Ziggy Marley said. “It’s official but it’s unofficial, which is Bob.”

Bob Marley died in 1981 at the age 36 from cancer, and his eldest son Ziggy Marley has taken on the mantle, first performing with his brothers and sisters in “The Melody Makers” and then moving onto a solo career as a multi-Grammy winning artist.

From his office on a residential street in West Hollywood, Ziggy Marley performed several Bob Marley songs for “Nightline,” including “War,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” and “Three Little Birds.”

“If I’m doing a concert and I’m having a problem with the audience…I just play a Bob Marley song and I’m good for the rest of the night,” Ziggy Marley said with a laugh. “I come out and just pull like ‘Jammin” or ‘Is This Love’ and I’ve got them now. Let me go back and do some of my own stuff.”

Ziggy said he learned things about his father in the process of working on the documentary, including the fact that his father was discriminated against in Jamaica because his father was white.

“I think probably how he dealt with that was to just be accepted by his peers around him through music, through forming a group, through being able to sing,” Ziggy Marley said.

Ziggy Marley, now 43, seven years older than his father was when he died, said the process of making “Marley” led him to old photographs that revealed how young his father was when he died.

“It never really hit me before how young 36 is, because when I was a child, he was like a big, old man to me,” he said. “I wish he could have experienced more, you know, and lived a little longer.”


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Why Ball Players Can Hug And Kiss Each Other, But Other Men Can’t

By Sylvia A. Harvey

Watch Documentary Here

In the Black community, men who express even a passing, friendly physical affection toward each other are often subject to ridicule and homophobic attacks.

But on the basketball court, the sight of men kissing, hugging and patting each others’ backsides scarcely draws a comment.

Why is that? In “OUT OF BOUNDS” — an exclusive NewsOne documentary — journalist Sylvia A. Harvey explores the strange double-standard that allows Black men to express intimacy on the basketball court, but keeps a tight lid on those feelings and actions off the court.

Harvey explains how the documentary came to be:

The mini-doc, “Out of Bounds,” was born out of a fight over the TV remote, which I lost. Slowly descending into the world of clock shots, blocks, and turnovers, I started to anticipate Ray Allen’s three-pointer, Kevin Durant’s quick release shots and Blake Griffin’s dunks. NBA games showcased breathtaking plays and hard fought victories. But most compelling was the quiet backdrop that spoke louder than any winners or losers – the players’ behavior on the court.

When a player made that unimaginable shot or game saving free throw, yelling, chest pounding, mid-air chest bumps and high-fives ensued. But alongside this bravado came rare public displays of intimacy between black men—intimacy that if recognized could challenge traditional boundaries of black masculinity.

I set out to ask: What gave these men the license to hug, kiss, and slap each other’s backsides unapologetically in front of millions of spectators? Why hadn’t that license been granted to black men everywhere, and why was that license seemingly suspended once the game ended?

Many recreational ball players with whom I spoke ascribed the intimacy to the quirks of sports culture, but admitted an unspoken rule prevents this behavior from carrying beyond the court. That unspoken rule is explored via the influence of hyper-masculine hip-hop culture and heteronormative privilege


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The Greatest Story Never Told: Groundbreaking Documentary Uncovers Buried Truths

Los Angeles — Chosen By God: The Great Pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty sets out to reinstate the powerful black leaders of the Old Testament to Biblical history, scholarship and cultural discourse. This groundbreaking documentary, based on archeological evidence and historical authentication, tells the story of Egypt’s dynamic black Pharaohs. Although an integral part of the Biblical Books of Isaiah and 2 Kings, these figures remain among the most under-celebrated examples of African heroism and hope.

Why has the story been downplayed for so long? That’s the question historians, ministers, and archeological and anthropological experts explore in the 90-minute DVD.

Looking closely at the facts and fiction surrounding ancient Egypt circa 700 BC and its greatest Nubian/Kushite Pharaoh, who saved the Hebrews and the Hebrew religion, as well as the greatest Nubian/Kushite Queen of the Nile, these authorities reveal what the film claims is the “greatest story never told.” For minority cultures, which for centuries have sought to discover a complete history of their leaders, Chosen By God unearths a legacy of achievement.

Chosen By God, written by Lamont Roberts and directed by Mike Criscione, was funded by Reel Image Inc. (RII), a California nonprofit that supports independent filmmakers who foster an appreciation of cultural diversity by depicting images of positive role models and realistic portrayals of women and minorities. The documentary’s producers Mike Criscione, Carl E. Dickerson and Lamont Roberts brought together a talented production and acting crew to create a film for a wide range of audiences, including scholars or aficionados of Biblical history, black heritage, ancient dynasties, religion and Egyptology.

In making Chosen By God, the filmmakers produced an invaluable tool for understanding the history of black leaders prior to the Mayflower, but another key impetus for making the film was to inspire black youth to achieve personally and professionally, and to educate greater society on minority leadership and their contributions to the evolution of civilization.

Along with the DVD, authentic replicas of the only Pharaoh to defend Hezekiah and the Hebrew people against their enemies are available for purchase through the film’s official website,

Official Trailer on YouTube:




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