Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
I think your readers will be interested in the following exchange I had with Thomas Bena, the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, regarding the upcoming showing of Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, a film about Angela Davis.
Several weeks ago, Mr. Bena approached me in front of the Chilmark Store and invited me to join the panel discussing the film. My friends Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Charlene Hunter-Gault had been invited to be on the panel and Mr. Bena said that I would add diversity to the event. I told him I would be delighted to join the panel and I urged him to read my letter to the Vineyard Gazette last year, which contained views critical of Angela Davis.
I told him that I would dispute the claim that Angela Davis supported the release of “all political prisoners.” The sad reality is that she has consistently refused to speak up on behalf of political prisoners of left wing regimes such as China, Cuba, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the former Soviet Union. As an official of the Communist Party, Angela Davis has always followed the party line of supporting all Communist and hard left regimes while criticizing Western democracies.
To the contrary of this misnamed film, Davis has a long and sordid history of actively supporting the imprisonment of political prisoners persecuted by communist and hard left regimes. For example when I asked her to speak up against the imprisonment of Soviet dissidents, she went out of her way to justify their punishment because she considered these dissidents to be fascist opponents of socialist democracy.
Following this exchange I received an email from Mr. Bena indicating he would be reaching out to Angela Davis “to more fully understand the situation I am creating.” He then wrote me another email disinviting me from the panel, and suggesting that I ask a question from the crowd. I explained to him that speaking critically from the audience is no substitute for having a place on the panel and adding balance to the evening’s event. He responded that, “it is our core mission to support free speech, thoughtful discussion, debate and action.” But he has persisted in his refusal to allow me to participate on the panel and in his withdrawal of his original invitation to do so. This does not seem consistent with the core mission of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival and with the desire to have thoughtful discussion about controversial and sensitive matters. I am disappointed with Mr. Bena and with the film festival and I fear that it may be turning into a propaganda festival instead of a forum for the presentation of diverse views by diverse people.
Alan M. Dershowitz, Chilmark