An icon of intersectionality, Angela Davis’s Afrikana Film Festival appearance was the epitome of ‘Black Girl Magic’
The Afrikana Film Festival went above and beyond their mission when the legendary Angela Davis spoke before a sold out crowd at the VMFA’s Leslie Cheek Theater last month. While still a young organization, only having been around since September of last year. Davis’ appearance lined up impeccably with the org’s mission to “showcase the cinematic works of people of color from around the world.”
The event, an Evening With An Icon, had familial themes, from the candidness of the presenters to the light mixer prior, there was no corner of the room not alive and present. Guests of all ages and backgrounds were able to gather in celebration of Black History Month during a light cocktail hour punctuated by a performance from Samantha Reed of Dance Candy and other Richmond instrumentalist. The diversity and youthfulness of the crowd was a visible tenet of the night, most likely an outcome of the proximity to Virginia Commonwealth University or Davis’ popularity among young radicals.
If you have not seen the film, Free Angela And All Political Prisoners, it is available on Amazon.com for rent and purchase. The movie works as a biopic-slice of Angela’s life that traverses childhood, rise to political notoriety and her eventually well-known court case. While it is a must-see for any aspiring activist, Davis herself was the highlight of the night and for those in attendance.
Yolanda Avent, the Director of VCU’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs doubling as the presenter of the night, described Angela Davis as the “…epitome of Black Girl Magic; through her activism and scholarship over many decades, Angela Davis has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world.”
The Q & A session with David, conducted by VCU sociology professor and Harvard scholar Tressie M Cottom PhD, insightfully tackled the activists history with controversial matters of race and gender equality:
—–Cottom in bold, Davis in italics—–
Cottom: We are in for a treat tonight, for the opportunity to have a conversation with you. In many ways you do represent an ideal especially I think to young people who are trying to find their way as organizers and radical speakers, where do they begin?
In response to that question, I have to say that I feel, somewhat awkward of being placed in a position of telling young people what to do today. Because I remember when I was of the age of the young people you’re referring to- we didn’t ask the elders what we should do. Our best relationship with elders were relationships that emphasized a kind of egalitarian connection. Of course we wanted to know of the experiences of those who had been at this for many years.
But at the same time we wanted to find our own way and we realized we were much more in touch with much of what was going on at that time and didn’t carry the baggage, that people like myself now, have as a result of having been around a long time. Sometimes you have to simply encourage young people to find their own passion, do the work, be imaginative and be innovative! They may make mistakes; what I am concerned about today is not that young people not make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable and we learn from mistakes. Rather, they not make the same mistakes we did. That is all that I ask.
You said you have a lot of affection for Black Lives Matter (BLM) organizers, ‘this is the moment we’ve been waiting for’- do you still feel that way?
Oh absolutely, absolutely. I had a really wonderful conversation with Alicia Garza of Davis: Democracy Now, in Washington D.C. just before the Women’s March. The day of the inauguration. I have been in conversation with Patrice Colors for a very long time, since before the emergence of Black Lives Matter. She and I are doing an event in Los Angeles beginning in April.
You mentioned something that we gotta talk about, we’re in this moment- we are in the moment of Donald Trump. In many ways [his presidency] is an extension of some things that were already happening: the expansion of executive powers, things that worry people who believe radical social justice. How much has changed for those of us who care about social justice under Donald Trump?
It’s not yet been a month has it? I know it seems like the Obama administration was a long-long time ago, wasn’t it? Well, this is the future we really dreaded, this is what we could not imagine. Especially with the implicit call to turn the clock back: ‘Make America Great Again’, Make America White Supremacists Again.
That is what that slogan is a code for. The over-attack on Muslims and Immigrants- I think it’s really important for Black people to recognize, this is an attack on all of us. It is because of the long duration of the quest for Black freedom that he is not able to come out and use the same language that he uses about immigrants from Mexico and Central America and Muslims. But racism is racism and the Islamophobia that we are witnessing now is growing on the terrain that has been created by so many decades and centuries of anti-black racism and anti-indigenous racism. This is a time for us to recognize that all of us must stand with the most vulnerable populations. Especially Black people, who have been the recipients of international solidarity for so many decades and centuries.
As a matter of fact, if one looks at a single struggle, a single projected struggle, on the planet, it is the Black struggle for freedom in the United States of America that everyone, everywhere is familiar with. We would not be where we are today if it had not been for those solidarities. You just saw the film- You saw very concretely how I was the beneficiary of those solidarities. I would not be sitting here speaking with you this evening had not those movements emerged in the way that they did. I feel really obligated to make an appeal to everyone that we have to resist and prevent the Donald Trump project from reaching its realization, because on that depends the future of this country.
In terms of resistance, you have talked a lot and worked a lot and have become the voice of how we should think about prison, crime and punishment. I think about what brought about what you call the Donald Trump project, which I think is the perfect way to think about it, because it is a man but it’s all that stuff around him the apparatus. I think about things like drone warfare, increased surveillance, tracking and what a different moment this is or the specific missions of what is means to resist and sort of connect our struggle to the end of prisons.
How should we be navigating, how should we be resisting? I think about our everyday lives, what should we be doing to connect our struggle to that? How should we be thinking about, for example right now, the political prisoner mains and how we can express solidarity with political prisoners and bring that into the moment for revolution.
I was in Florida yesterday, Boca Raton. Which incidentally is right near Mar-a-Lago…I got out of there before Friday evening, which is when he goes down there. Boca Raton is of course the home of the Geo-Group which is the second largest private prison corporation in the country. Some of you may remember about four years ago- when students and faculty at Florida Atlantic University protested the decision to name their stadium after the Geo Group.
The CEO of the geo group promised to donate six million dollars in exchange for naming rights for the stadium. The faculty and staff, they prevented that. Geo is the second largest private prison corporation in the country, Corrections Corporation of America is the largest but do you know Corrections Corporation of America just changed their name: it’s called Core Civic now.
Last summer, when the Bureau of Justice decided to severe relations with private companies- they decided they would no longer enter in any contracts with private prisons. The stock began to plummet, Donald Trump gets elected, the stock begins to soar. These companies are responsible for writing some of the most racist and repressive anti-immigrant legislation. The anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona that requires police officers to arrest people who look like they may be undocumented, and ask for their papers.
The model for this legislation was created by private prison companies. They recognize that the most profitable horizon is now immigrant detention. I mention this because I think it’s so important to recognize the connections with what we have come to call mass incarceration.
In the wake of political moves on the federal and state level to divide Americans, Davis encouraged the audience to recognize the intersectionality of the issues permeating media everywhere: from immigration legislation, to growth of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) and lack of LGBTQ+ equity legislation.
Davis’ unwavering support of marginalized groups internationally, continues to set the precedent for intersectional activism moving forward. The large takeaway from Angela Davis’ Q & A with Tressie Cottom PhD and Free Angela Davis! And All Political Prisoners is the perspective that this intersectional lens in which to activate, stems from oneself; people are complex in their identities and loyalties.
Photos via jefferson Harris
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