Yesterday, Shadow And Act exclusively announced that iconic director Julie Dash—the first African American woman to have a feature film be distributed in full theatrical release—has been tapped to direct a biopic on Angela Davis for Lionsgate. For those unfamiliar, Angela Davis emerged as a prominent activist in the 1960s before going on to become a professor at University of California, Los Angeles in the 1970s. Known as a radical feminist and member of USA’s Communist Party, Davis was fired at the urging of California’s then-governor Ronald Reagan for her membership. In 1970, the staunch activist became a fugitive after firearms she purchased for security guards were used in a 1970 incident at the Marin County courthouse where four men were killed. Davis was eventually listed on the FBI’S Most Wanted List, becoming the third woman to be listed.
On the evening of On October 13, 1970, FBI agents arrested Davis at a motel in New York City. Davis’ arrest spawned a nationwide campaign to get her released. Chief among her supporters were Aretha Franklin, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In 1972, Davis was acquitted by an all white jury on the grounds that her ownership of the guns used in the Marin County courthouse incident was not sufficient evidence to prove her role in the plot. Dr. Davis has continued her political activism around the world, urging oppressed people to understand joint struggle and to be in solidarity with each other across race, gender, ethnicity and geography. Given the richness, twists and complexity of Davis’ life tale, here are 6 Black actresses that would due justice to Dr. Davis’ heroic story.
1) Amirah Vann
Anyone who has seen the period drama Underground or the juicy nighttime soap How To Get Away With Murder knows that Amirah Vann has the range. As Ernestine, the head house slave on a Southern plantation on Underground, Vann brought purity, complexity and a sense of pathos lacking from our big screens. As Teagan Price on How To Get Away With Murder, Vann can alternate between nurturing to downright biting with the flick of her wrist. Make no mistake, Amirah Vann is long overdue to become a leading lady on the big screen. She is one of our top choice to bring Davis’ tale to the big screen.
2) Susan Kelechi Watson
Watson has been killing it as Beth Pearson on the NBC hit drama This Is Us. She’s also slated to make her film debut as Andrea Vogel in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, the biopic on Fred Rogers starring Tom Hanks. While her role as Vogel is anticipated to be a supporting turn, it’s time for Watson to get the spotlight she deserves; we’d love to see her bring the fire than seeing Watson take the lead as Angela Davis.
3) Jurnee Smollett Bell
As Rosalee on WGN’s Undergound, Jurnee Smollett-Bell transformed from a shy and sheltered enslaved woman on a Southern plantation to a doggedly determined heroine intent on securing her own freedom. Bell would be an ideal casting choice if producers are looking to chronicle Davis’ time on the run as fugitive in 1970, a time in which she was listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for the Marin County courthouse killings. In addition, she would also be a great choice if producers wanted to Chronicle Davis’ time in Frankfurt, Germany in the late 1960s. Smollet-Bell has proved she can carry a movie; at 11 years old, she gave an Oscar-worthy performance as the precocious Eve Baptiste in the southern gothic classic Eve’s Bayou. She is also set to appear as DC comic book heroine Black Canary in Birds Of Prey in 2020.
4) Storm Reid
As Meg Murry in Ava DuVernay’s dazzling adaptation of the sci-fi classic A Wrinkle In Time, Reid radiates with a sense of determination and moxie that belies her age. Reid would be a perfect casting choice if producers at Lionsgate wanted to chronicle Davis’ teenage years, particularly her time as a Girl Scout when she marched to protest racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.
5) S. Epatha Merkerson
Known for her iconic role as Anita Van Buren on Law & Order, S. Epatha Merkerson would make an ideal choice for portraying an older Angela Davis. If producers wanted to include an older Davis into the story, they can make her biopic into a history thriller in the vein of the 2007 film The Debt. The story would begin in present day New York City, where Angela Davis (played by Merkerson) is holding a Q&A for her 2011 book, The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues. Davis is interviewed by a prominent Black female reporter and answers her questions with ease. However, Davis pauses at the final question: “What is freedom?” From there, Ms. Davis takes a pause and looks out into the audience, which is a room full of Black women. From there, the famed activist recounts the events in 1970, where the story segues’ into a high octane thriller that chronicles Davis’ time as a USC professor, her manhunt, her capture, imprisonment and eventual acquittal by an all white jury.
6) Laura Harrier
With supporting turns in Spider-Man: Homecoming and BlacKkKlansman, Harrier dazzled in the latter as Patrice Dumas, the president of the Black student union at a Colorado college and love interest to main character Ron Stallworth (John David Washington). It’s pretty evident from her large Afro and oversized glasses that Harrier’s character was Angela Davis-inspired, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Harrier go all the way into character as Davis.