Biopic of Civil Rights Activist Angela Davis in Development from ‘Dope’ and ‘Fruitvale Station’ Producer


Civil rights activist Angela Davis may soon get a biopic; as Variety reports, the rights to Angela Davis: an Autobiography were recently acquired by Codeblack Films, a joint venture between Lionsgate and African American-owned production company Codeblack Entertainment. The film is being developed by producer Nina Yang Bongiovi, whose former credits include Dope and Fruitvale Station.

If you’re worried that Davis’ complex story of rebellion against white supremacy and capitalism will get turned into a morally easy, digestible Hollywood narrative, those concerns might not be totally necessary here. Her story is, at least, staying somewhat within the family, with Davis herself executive producing and her niece, Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright Eisa Davis, penning the screenplay.

Codeblack has formerly been involved with another project about Davis — Shola Lynch’s documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, which they distributed theatrically alongside BET. That film detailed Davis’ early life, leading up to her involvement in the 1970 Marin County courthouse takeover incident and the trial that ensued, in which she was charged with murder (among other things), of which she was eventually acquitted.

Davis grew up in a neighborhood of Birmingham, AL referred to as “Dynamite Hill”, because of the KKK’s tendency to bomb the homes of black residents and the people who sold houses to them. She subsequently became a member of both the Communist Party and the Black Panthers, attended Brandeis and UCSD, and served briefly (that is: for two days) as an assistant professor of philosophy at UCLA, before she was fired by the UC Board of Regents (under orders by Ronald Reagan, who was the Governor of California at the time) for her participation in the Communist Party. The American Association of University Professors fought her dismissal in court and ultimately won, via a ruling that she couldn’t be fired solely for communist affiliations. She was given her job back, and then promptly fired again by the Board of Regents for “inflammatory language” used in lectures.

In 1970, following the aforementioned Marin County courtroom incident, when it was found that weapons used to enact the takeover were bought by Davis, a warrant was issued for her arrest for aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder. She became a fugitive, going on the run across the country, until she was ultimately found at a motel in New York by the FBI; they were lauded by Richard Nixon for having tracked down a “dangerous terrorist.”

She was held in the Women’s Detention Center through the course of her trial (overseen by an all-white jury), as movements to free her arose throughout the country.

Ultimately, she was found not guilty on all charges. The original autobiography — which NYT called more an act of “political communication” than “self-discovery,” and an “idiosyncratic account of her childhood, youth and growth, and her choice of the Communist party as the agency through which to act” — ends not long after that, as Davis wrote it in 1974.

On her release from prison she continued her controversial activism, furthering anti-capitalist sentiment and actually gaining support from Cuba and the Soviet Union. She taught around the country, and, curiously, at one point (obviously before November 18, 1978) befriended Jim Jones. (Who, to be fair, other major American figures, like Huey Newton and Harvey Milk, also initially got behind.)

In 2014, Davis returned to UCLA at 70, as a Distinguished Professor Emerita — 45 years following her dismissal. She was quoted by NBC, saying at the time of the announcement of her return:

I never in my wildest imagination would have thought accepting the position here at UCLA would have led to that kind of notoriety. I wasn’t seeking notoriety. I just wanted to be a teacher and an activist.

This biopic, if it’s not too traditionally biopic-y, could be another chance to get the story of her life and activist choices out beyond media sensationalism, in words written by someone very close to the source.