Sidra Smith, also known as actress Tasha Smith’s equally ebullient twin sister, is the producer behind the thrilling new documentary on political activist Angela Davis. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners explores the explosive months Davis spent on trial for murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy charges in 1972.
We spoke with Smith about her involvement in the Shola Lynch-directed project, finally getting to meet Davis in Toronto, and how she got Jada Pinkett Smith (with Will Smith and Jay-Z through their entertainment companies, Overbook Entertainment and Roc Nation respectively) involved.
ESSENCE: Did Shola Lynch come to you with this project?
SIDRA SMITH: Yes, she did. I’ve been following her with this project for years and when she did Chisholm ’72 on Shirley Chisholm, I was like, ‘What’s your next project?’ She told me she had the rights to do Angela Davis’ story. I was like, ‘Oh my God, if you ever need help please let me know.’ One day she literally brought her computer to my house where the first cut was stored at the time. She carried that big ‘ol Mac up four flights of steps and we watched it in my living room and it all took off from there.
ESSENCE: And your first impression?
SMITH: I was blown away. I thought it was extraordinary. The first thing I said to her was, ‘You know you’re going to win an Oscar right?’
ESSENCE: I’ve always thought I knew about Angela Davis’ life, but I felt like this gave me a whole new perspective.
SMITH: A lot of people know Angela Davis, but they don’t know why they know her. This film brings it together.
ESSENCE: Shola has lots of detailed footage of Angela that many of us may have never seen before.
SMITH: Shola worked on this film for seven years; I cannot imagine it was an easy process for her. I came in on the tail end after her first cut. For a documentary filmmaker to go through seven years of bringing footage together, I can only imagine it’s not an easy task.
ESSENCE: What do you hope that audiences will walk away with?
SMITH: I want them to be inspired. I want them to be inspired by Angela’s strength. The way that she held on back then and the way she allowed that to drive her to do what she’s doing today to me is amazing.
ESSENCE: Have you met Angela Davis?
SMITH: I met Angela for the first time in Toronto and when we premiered the film at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The second I saw her, I just hugged her. I felt like I had known her my entire life and she’s such a warm and welcoming person that I felt that it was an instant connection. We just gave each other a big hug and it was like we had been hanging for the longest time.
ESSENCE: I read that you were the one who brought the project to Jada Pinkett Smith.
SMITH: Yes, Jada and I have known each other since we were 19 or 20 years old. Ever since I’ve known Jada, I’ve known that she was an Angela Davis fan. She used to hip all of us on different books on feminism and that sort of thing. The minute I saw this film and knew Shola was trying to raise the funds to complete it, I was just like Jada! I’m calling Jada literally. I hit her up and you know how it is with your friends, you can’t call them every time you come across a great idea but this to me was just such a perfect match. I was like, 'Jada just look at it, if you like it let’s make it happen, if you don’t, all respect.' Jada called me a week later and was like, ‘I love it, what do we need to do?’ Literally. She just went hard ever since.
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners opens in select cities on April 5.