Black Archives: a multimedia showcase of the Black experience

Archiving is so important in an information era that favours the new and quickly discards the old when it’s deemed surplus to requirements (read: it’s not making profit). This is especially true for Black cultures and Black Archives works to change that.

[…] Through an evolving visual exploration, Black Archives provides a dynamic accessibility to a Black past, present, and future.

Going beyond the norm, its lens examines the nuance of Black life: alive and ever-vibrant to both the everyday and iconic — providing insight and inspiration to those seeking to understand the legacies that preceded their own.

Besides archiving, Black Archives also offers:

  • Content creation and visual curation
  • Archival research and licensing
  • Social strategy and creative direction

For more, check out the Black Archives website.

Black titles from The Criterion Collection's upcoming line-up

I didn’t know if this was a conscious effort or a happy coincidence but there were more Black films (or films with Black people in major roles) than I expected in The Criterion Collection’s upcoming line-up. They include:

If you can find other means of watching or buying them, do that.

Black British LGBTQ+ community deserves better on-screen portrayals, says Nana Duncan

The UK film industry rarely commissions Black stories because they do not believe that our stories have an audience, and I find that astonishing. Black people are the drivers of culture, and we deserve to be represented. The only stories they seem to commission are the ones about gang violence to further perpetuate the falsehood that is Black on Black crime.

It is crucial that we explore alternative narratives to represent the multitude of nuanced Black experiences in our society. Being a womxn is one thing, being Black and British is another. My queerness adds another dimension to my identity. I am not Black before I am queer, I am not queer before I am Black, I am a queer Black British womxn.

(via Pink News)

10 best Black superhero movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes, via Screen Rant

Justin Van Voorhis made a list of the 10 best Black superhero movies based on Rotten Tomatoes ratings. Of course, that means it might now be your top 10 list or anyone’s for that matter. But it’s interesting to see how the general public voted for them.

Alas, I have only seen 4 of them and heard of 6 which means I have a lot of catching up to do. I like that the list has films from all but one decade since the 70s (nothing from the 80s). I’m sure you can guess what the #1 was and I’m in full agreement.

Check the list and read about my attempt at compiling a crowdsourced list of Black superheroes.

Room Rodeo: a Chicago student’s film about Black cowboys

Bill Pickett

I watched Concrete Cowboy a few weeks ago and while I liked it and found it interesting, I felt like it was missing something. It’s by no means the first movie about Black cowboys (see: The Black Cowboy, Harlem Rides the Range, and Black Rodeo) it’s the most high-profile, mixing Hollywood actors with IRL cowboys.

But next week, there’ll be a new film putting its hat into the ring so to speak and it’s called Room Rodeo.

The film is about Jamil, a Chicago boy trying to prove he is a descendant of Bill Pickett, a Black cowboy, rodeo, actor, and ProRodeo Hall of Famer. It stars D’Andre Davis as Jamil, and mixes drama with documentary interviews and footage of Black cowboys and historians.

His dad stands him up. He acts out. Now Jamil is on punishment in his room. He’s also finally reached the fifth grade and has a history project due.

If only his dad would tell him about his great grandpa, rodeo star Billie P – like he promised. But just when Jamil’s dad calls and things begin to look up, the cool kid from class calls with a humiliating declaration: Black cowboys aren’t real. Now, Jamil must drum up the courage to embark on a quest to discover the truth on his own – all from the comfort of his room. With some help from a dubious heirloom, Jamil puts aside whispers of doubt to venture into a fantasy dreamscape where he claims authorship of his own story.

Room Rodeo will be screened online for 24 hours as part of the creator’s thesis requirements, starting on 12th May at 7 pm. A virtual Q&A session will follow on 13th May, also at 7pm.

Yaphet Kotto on Alien and Black and female representation in sci-fi

yaphet kotto in alien

Yaphet Kotto passed away yesterday at the age of 81.

I took for granted how many brilliant films he featured in:

  • Live and Let Die
  • The Running Man
  • Midnight Run
  • Across 110th Street
  • Blue Collar
  • Raid on Entebbe

But one of his best known roles was that of Parker, the chief engineer in Alien.

In the video below, Kotto discusses the impact Alien had on him and Black and female actors in sci-fi after its release. Although not explicitly mentioned by Kotto, the actor who played the Alien in Alien was also Black: Bolaji Badejo, a Nigerian visual artist and actor who sadly passed away in 1992.

YAPHET KOTTO on ALIEN | Opening Doors | TIFF

25 Black art documentaries you need to watch

Last February, Lachelle Chyrsanne compiled a list of 25 must watch Black art documentaries.

From the list, I’ve only seen 5:

  1. Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (2011)
  2. Black Is the Color: A History of African American Art (2017)
  3. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
  4. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010)
  5. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019)

There’s no time limit on watching these so I’ll add them to my ever-growing Letterboxd watchlist. The documentaries I have watched were very powerful and worth your time and investment.

See also: James Baldwin on the meaning of liberty, Toni Morrison on Jazz, and Jean-Michel Basquiat on how to be an artist.

'Lovers Rock' named film of the year by Sight & Sound

Lovers Rock, a story set in the 80s about young love at a party in West London, won Sight & Sound’s film of the year award this week.

In an interview with BBC News, McQueen expressed his belief of a brighter future for Black and Brown people in film and TV:

“To be honest with you, black and brown-skinned people have not been really welcomed into the film and television community. But now things are sort of changing things and people are realising that things need to be sorted and things need to be changed and there’s opportunities there – we’ve just got to take them when we get them.”

Lovers Rock received universal acclaim, from critics and on social media. Odie Henderson of rogerebert.com said:

Despite its brief 68-minute runtime, “Lovers Rock” is loaded with tactile, sensuous storytelling. The cinematography by Shabier Kirchner and McQueen’s direction make the well-choreographed dance sequences into amazing mini-movies; you’ll find yourself asking “where the hell is the camera?”

And Sonia Saraiya of Vanity Fair:

Lovers Rock is a love letter to the joy of being alive, and young, and at least momentarily, free.

You can watch Lovers Rock on iPlayer and if you want to listen to the music from the film, Slate made a playlist of the tracks.

Jenn Nkiru on her work and Afro-surrealism

Jenn Nkiru

As part of the Jarman Award Touring Programme 2020, Black filmmaker Jenn Nkiru spoke with Sofia Lemos in conjunction with the Nottingham Contemporary.

They discussed her film Black to Techno (2019), Black musical histories and how the afro-surrealism in her work.

Jenn Nkiru is an artist and filmmaker. Pushed through an Afro-surrealist lens, her practice is grounded in the history of Black music and the aesthetics of experimental film and international art cinema. Her work draws on the Black arts movement and the rich and variegated tradition of cinemas of the Black diaspora and their distinct experimentation with the politics of form. Her work blends elements of history, identity, politics, music, documentary and dance.

Check out Jenn’s website for more of her work.

Chadwick Boseman (1976–2020)

Chadwick Boseman

I feel almost bereft of words and I’m in no position to write any kind of obituary for Chadwick Boseman. But I do have something to say and something to share.

2018 was a pretty crappy year in a long line of crappy years (and it’s still ongoing). But when I went to see Black Panther in February 2018, it changed my life. Black superheroes don’t get the kind of recognition and environment to flourish and be like White superheroes, at least not in cinema (seeing as not everyone reads comics). So when I saw not just a Black superhero but a Black environment in all its majesty and glory, I wept. I needed that. And Chadwick Boseman, along with the rest of the cast, gave me that joy and empowerment. For that, I am ever grateful.

For the second part of this post, I wanted to share something shared by Josh Gad on Twitter:

It reads:

CATCH THE RAIN

If you are in Los Angeles, you woke up this morning to the rare and peaceful sound of a steady precipitation. If you’re like me, maybe you looked at the week’s forecast and found that it’s supposed to ran for three straight days; not without breaks of sunlight and reprieves of moist gloom, but yeah it’s gonna be coming down like cats and dogs. Great. We’re stuck inside these damn quarantines beacuse of the Covid, and now we can’t even get no sun in Cali. Come on now!

But now that the rain has stopped and today’s storm has cleared, I urge you to go outside and take a DEEP breath. Notice how fresh the air is right now, after our skies have had a 3 week break from the usual relentless barage of fumes from bumper to bumper LA commuters, and now today’s rain has given the City of Angels a long overdo and much-needed shower. Inhale and exhale this moment, and thank God for the unique beauties and wonders of this day. We should take advantage of every moment we can to enjoy the simplicity of God’s creation, whether it be clear skies and sun or clouded with gloom. And hey, if the air is this clear right now, and it does rain tomorrow, I might even put jars and bins out and catch the rain. Throw that in the water filter and I have a water more alkaline than any bottle brand out there.

I hope he’s catching the rain right now.

Khalik Allah's "Black Mother" is a spiritual trip through Jamaica

Theatrical poster for Khalik Allah's Black Mother. Designed by Midnight Marauder

I love my Jamaican heritage and love any from of art that exhibits its richness. Black Mother does exactly that. The film, directed by Khalik Allah, takes you on a journey through the Caribbean island but not the kind you’d find on a Sandals commercial. Black Mother shows the true Jamaica with all its highs and lows, beauty, scars, and all. Critics have called it “thrilling and hallucinatory”, “spiritual and philosophical” and “dazzling cinematic poetry”.

Thoroughly immersed between the sacred and profane, Black Mother channels rebellion and reverence into a deeply personal ode informed by Jamaica’s turbulent history but existing in the urgent present.

via Grasshopper Film

Black Mother features sex workers, Rastafarians, and Revivalists who weave their life experiences into the greater Jamaican tapestry. This is a must watch.

Stream the trailer below and purchase the movie poster on the Grasshopper Film website. If you happen to be in or around Beverly Hills on 10th May, screening will take place at the Laemmle Music Hall.

An interview with Shanarà Phillips

shanara-phillips

Her love of visual storytelling has taken her around the world and she recently had her video, He’s Not Like That, featured at the BAFTAs as a finalist. We interviewed her for Black History Month.

What is your favourite city in the world?

To not be biased and say my own, I would say Oslo. I recently went there for a little weekend trip to visit one of my best friends and I wish I could have stayed longer. Such a beautiful city, friendly people and the food is great. Plus the flights are really cheap!

What’s the most unusual item you take everywhere you go?

There’s nothing usual that I take with me, although I’ve weirdly had a few people ask me before why I carry moisturiser with me all the time… I mean who wants ashy skin? Especially when you already have eczema.

Why do you do what you do?

I do what I currently do because I’m passionate about film and TV. So I currently have a full-time job as a logger for a production company and we’re working on a series about Formula 1 racing which will be on Netflix. I also do the odd videography/editing freelance job. It’s all to help pay the bills and fund my filmmaking hobby so that eventually I can start producing my own work for film/tv.

When was the last time you told someone you loved them?

I can’t remember and that’s terrible.

Where do you go to relax?

The only place I have to relax is my room really. I came back home last year and my room was still the same way I left it at 18 and so as I’m almost 23 now I decided it needed a makeover to match the woman I am now. So I’ve been slowly turning it into my own relaxing sanctuary where I can just edit and write, or watch crap on YouTube.

69, 280, or 420?

420, always.

How do you say goodbye in your culture?

Unfortunately, I don’t know Vincentian Creole, but my family have this habit of mostly saying ‘in a bit’.

He's Not Like That | Vlogstar Challenge Grand Final Entry

Get Out: Black Solidarity and Knowing the Code

Get Out is probably one of the most unique and intriguing horror films I’ve seen since It Follows. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or two, Get Out is a huge box-office success and a critically acclaimed horror/thriller/comedy mash-up from the mind of Jordan Peele. A lot has been written about how Get Out derives its horror from racial overtones. This is certainly true and as a young black man myself, what resonated with me most was how Chris attempted to initially combat the awkwardness of the situation – particularly through his language.

The film

In Get Out, Chris Washington, an African-American, accompanies his white girlfriend Rose to meet her parents in a predominately white community but he soon discovers something sinister is afoot. Most black people in predominately white countries are aware of the concept of microaggressions. Get Out successfully highlights how those day-to-day microaggressions contribute to fetishizing an individual by reducing them to stereotypical components. Instead of greeting Chris normally, white characters in the film adopt forced African-American slang and proclaim their love of Obama. To them, Chris isn’t ‘Chris the Individual’, instead, he’s reduced to ‘Chris The Black Guy’ – a thoroughly isolating experience.

Chris’ attempts to remedy this isolation strongly resonated with me. Whilst staying with Rose’s parents, Chris only encounters three other black people. His first solution to avoiding that segregation is to appeal to them for solidarity. But there’s something ‘off’ about the black servants who serve Rose’s family, and similarly something unsettling about the only other black man who Chris meets at the parents’ party. When he tries to engage with them on their assumed level, i.e. through African-American idioms, slang and gestures (the fist bump for example), they don’t reciprocate.

On my initial viewing of Get Out, it got me thinking about the ‘black guy nod’. Personally, I don’t even know when I learned or when I started doing the ‘black guy nod’, otherwise called just ‘the nod’ or the ‘Negro nod’. This refers to a knowing look and small nod of the head shared between black people whenever they see each other in an area without many other black people.

Last year, when walking down the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I did it when I noticed a black guy walking past me and he kindly returned the gesture. We didn’t even say anything to each other, we just nodded knowingly, kept it moving and I never saw him again. I don’t know his name, where he was from, but it just seemed like something I ought to do.

A scene from Get Out

It’s not the only tool for establishing solidarity; code-switching is an effective tool for connecting with someone from the same culture. Code-switching refers to when a speaker alternates between two or more languages or dialects. It’s often context and audience dependent. For minorities, this can be especially important. Referencing shared cultural experiences can be a form of emotional survival. And considering that survival is at the core of Get Out, it’s probably the best exploration of code-switching I’ve seen on cinema. (Dave Chappelle has a hilarious stand-up routine where he mentions Black people looking out for each other in dangerous situations.)

We codes

Some academics propose that this type of intra-communal code-switching can be divided into “we” and “they” codes. “We codes” are geared towards the home, family and immediate community, while “they codes” are associated with wider public discourse. A “we code” might consist of something as overt as a shared language or regional dialect that people of a shared heritage might use versus the standardised language they use when corresponding in formal settings. “We codes” establish solidarity for people who might be marginalised and minorities in a specific context.

A good example of Chris attempting a “we code”, is when he tries to establish a rapport with Walter, a black groundskeeper who serves Rose’s family. It’s a short scene; whilst Walter is outside doing manual labour, Chris says to Walter, “they working you good out here, huh?” in a friendly manner. Potentially, this is Chris’ attempt to highlight a distinction between the wealthy whites who own the property and the African-American outsiders, namely Chris, Georgina and Walter. Walter responds by reaffirming his link with Rose’s family, leaving the audience to feel that Chris is alone and Walter is not an ally.

It’s an awkward moment when Chris tries to segue into a “we code” with fellow African-Americans in the town, only for it not to be reciprocated. For Chris and the audience, this confirms that there’s something ominous brewing in the community with regards to the way it views black people. This shifts the tone of the film from merely being a clumsy navigation of meeting the girlfriend’s parents (a la Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) to a disturbing and unsafe atmosphere. There’s no one there who can relate to Chris, which poses a threat to him as the true horror of the story unfolds.

Conclusion

There are many things we can take away from Get Out. There are so many thematic points to unpick which makes me look forward to re-watching it. The importance of reciprocating code-switching is demonstrated by the fact that the only person looking out for Chris, is the person who is most relatable to him culturally and linguistically. It’s a film with a lot of substance, but my favourite aspect of the film is its encouragement for ethnic minorities, particularly African-Americans, to look out for each other.

Get Out was released in UK Cinemas on the 17th March 2017.