Our Friend Angela Davis

01 March 2019

Cultural Studies | Ethnic Studies | Gender and Sexuality | History

Click the image below to view Our Friend Angela Davis (1972) for free until April 30th.

Our Friend Angela Davis, 1972 © British Film Institute
Our Friend Angela Davis, 1972 © British Film Institute

Spring has sprung here at Adam Matthew and as February draws to an end and March gets underway, we find ourselves dodging daffodils and rain showers at every turn. As well as a change of season, March 1st marks the close of (US) Black History Month and the dawn of Women’s History Month, two movements designed to promote figures marginalised by the traditional top-down historical narrative. With this in mind, it seems timely to share an intriguing propaganda piece about the African American woman and “enemy of the state” who toured Leonid Brezhnev’s USSR at the height of the Cold War.

Today, Angela Davis is Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A Hollywood biopic about her life is reportedly in the works and last year her face featured on a t-shirt in Prada’s SS18 collection. Fifty years ago, however, Davis faced prison after being labelled a terrorist by the oh-so virtuous president, Richard Nixon.

Documentary Our Friend Angela Davis (1972) is one of many gems included in Socialism on Film and focusses on the visit of the American communist, academic and activist to the USSR, where she was addressed as both a “sister” and a “friend”. Purportedly dedicated to equality above all else, the socialist leaders of the Soviet state welcomed several African American delegates – including Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson – warmly and in direct contempt of the US government, who labelled Davis a “criminal” and would for some time deny Robeson access to a passport.

As the narrator explains:

A long, hard road lay behind her. The American reactionaries arrested Angela on a trumped-up charge because she was so active in the Black Civil Rights Movement. They hounded her, a university instructor of philosophy, as though she were a vicious criminal.

In black and white scenes, Davis is greeted by cheering crowds on visits to universities, factories, schools and rallies in Tashkent and Moscow. She is accompanied by the famed cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, and becomes the first foreigner to receive the Lenin Centenary Medal from the Young Communist League. In contrast to the workers’ utopia displayed in this Soviet feature, Davis’ hometown of Birmingham, Alabama is referred to as “Bombingham”; Davis herself references “the children of my country, the children who are victims of poverty and disease and drug peddlers”.

The narrator speaks for Soviet leadership when he says:

We are happy to welcome you, dear Angela Davis, on behalf of the communists and all the people of Moscow, our capital, we express our sincere friendship for you and profound respect for your struggle for a better future for the black people, and all Americans.

Whether the friendship of the Soviet leadership was truly sincere, is – and will remain – unclear, however Davis’ commitment to equal rights surely was. Though she remains a divisive figure, Davis has continued to gain acclaim for her outspoken political stance and devotion to equal rights for African Americans and women.

Our Friend Angela Davis (1972) is available to view for free until April 30th.

Socialism on Film was produced with the British Film Institute. Module 1: Wars & Revolutions and Module 2: Newsreels & Cinemagazines are available now. For more information or to sign up for a free trial, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About the Author

Lindsay Gulliver

Lindsay Gulliver

Since joining the editorial team at Adam Matthew, I have worked on a range of resources charting the history of colonial America, nineteenth-century publishing and socialist propaganda. My main academic interests lie in cultural history and Thatcherism, but I enjoy researching all areas of modern history.