Rep. Barbara Lee on stage at the Grand Lake Theatre. Credit: Amir Aziz

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The Grand Lake Theatre hosted its first red carpet screening Monday night since reopening at the end of May. The legendary Oakland cultural space opened its doors for a special first-in-theater screening of Abby Ginzberg’s documentary, Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power.

The film, which was originally supposed to be part of last year’s canceled San Francisco International Film Festival, will release in selected theaters on August 20. 

The documentary is directed and produced by Ginzberg, a Peabody Award-winning filmmaker and Bay Area resident. It tells the story of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, an ardent progressive voice in the U.S. Congress for over two decades. Lee has focused her career on issues of civil rights, social justice, and international peace. She was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, and the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists following the attacks of September 11, 2001. 

Clockwise from top left: Lateefah Simon (left) poses with singer Goapele and her daughter on the red carpet; the Grand Lake marquee; Rep. Barbara Lee (right) mingles with a guest in the lobby; film director Abby Ginzberg (left) poses with Lateefah Simon.

Several city officials and other known members of the community attended the screening, including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, Berkeley City Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Ben Bartlett, author and activist Alice Walker, producers Joslyn Rose Lyons and Jonathan Logan, singer-songwriter Goapele,  journalist Davey D., and Oaklandish owner Angela Tsay. SF Film Society Executive Director Anne Lai introduced the screening. Lateefah Simon, president of the Akonadi Foundation and a Bay Area Rapid Transit board director, hosted a Q&A with Lee and Ginzberg after the screening.

During the conversation, Ginzberg said Lee was reluctant at first to have the film made. Yet, the director persisted in following Lee around the country, from Capitol Hill back to the East Bay, and eventually succeeded in turning the footage into a documentary that details her life as a member of Congress. 

“The amount of love that the world has for Barbara Lee, it was an honor to intersect with it,” Ginzberg said during the Q&A. 

Simon turned attention toward what’s currently happening on Capitol Hill, including grappling with the ongoing pandemic. 

Clockwise from top left: Audience members applaud; Lateefah Simon (left) in conversation with Rep. Barbara Lee; Simon in conversation with filmmaker Abby Ginzberg; Rep. Lee raises a fist on stage with Simon. Credit: Amir Aziz

“I almost said that I had to cancel tonight so I could fly back to DC to be on the steps of the capitol,” Lee said regarding the urgency to extend the eviction moratorium, which expired on August 1. “We are in the middle of another pandemic. This Delta variant is killing people. The Biden Administration has got to do something.” 

President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new, limited federal eviction moratorium that will last until October. 

Simon also asked Lee what it was like to have been in the Capitol building during the insurrection on January 6. 

“If you know what militias are about, then you prepare,” she said. “I knew that something was going to happen. And, because of that, I wore my yellow tennis shoes that day.” Lee spoke of having to rush out to avoid the insurrectionists as they got closer. “Let me tell you something, the Capitol Police saved our lives.” 

Moviegoers will have the chance to check out the film when it premieres locally on August 20 at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco, Landmark’s Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, and other theaters across the country. 

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.