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Under the Radar DVD of the Week: 'Free Angela and All Political Prisoners'

Dennis King Published: August 19, 2013

This week, the oddest DVD to appear on release lists is:

“Free Angela and All Political Prisoners’

In the hothouse political atmosphere of America in the 1960s, Angela Davis was a charismatic and controversial star figure – a lightning rod for all that was right and wrong about the radical activism of the anti-war, counterculture, free this-and-that movements of the era. “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” (due out on DVD Tuesday) is a documentary that charts the myth of this fiery “Power to the People” advocate.

A card-carrying member of the Communist Party who took up with the Black Panthers, Davis was a hardnosed intellectual who specialized in German philosophy and translated her academic rigor into radical action. Her arrest in 1970 for alleged involvement in a courtroom hostage standoff that left six people dead turned her into a headline figure (especially after she went underground on the run) – with Richard Nixon denouncing her as “a dangerous terrorist” and both John Lennon and the Rolling Stones writing songs about her. Either way, her Afro-haired picture adorned posters and T-shirts and became as iconic with revolutionaries as Che Quevara’s beret-wearing mug.

Director Shola Lynch employs standard documentaries techniques, interweaving archival footage with new talking-head interviews, to examine Davis’ myth, the Black Panther’s attention-grabbing ploys (massing with rifles on courthouse steps, etc.) and rhetorical excesses of the era. But she does little to question Davis’ larger-than-life persona, and the film largely plays out as fairly straightforward history of revolutionary spirit and one unique woman who articulated both its rage and hope.

“Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” is not rated and runs 101 minutes. It’s being released by Lions Gate.

- Dennis King