Abidemi Sanusi

Abidemi Sanusi

Abidemi Sanusi is an author, photographer and founder of Ready Writer - www.thereadywriter.co.uk, a digital content agency and budding film-maker. Born in Nigeria, she moved to the UK in her teens. Abidemi has an MSc in Development Studies, an MA in Christianity & the Arts and in her past life, has ...

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Madison John Speaks to MOBO Nominee Afrikan Boy Ahead of This Weds’ Awards!

Madison John Speaks to MOBO Nominee Afrikan Boy Ahead of This Weds' Awards!

Olushola Ajose better known as Afrikan boy is a Grime MC artist from Woolwich, South East London who is best known for his popular song released on YouTube many years ago 'One Day I Went To Lidl'. Since then, Afrikan Boy took some time out from the music industry to study  for a ...

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Director, Destiny Ekaragha

The British Blacklist's @DescantDeb Goes Pretty Far with Director Destiny Ekaragha

Destiny Ekaragha has a soul full of passion. It's mainly taken up with a love of film, but there's a significant proportion devoted solely to Jollof rice.   Sometimes I'll just stop what I'm saying and start talking about food... Honestly, the amount of interviews where Jollof rice is mentioned... I swear, ...

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Playwright, Ade Solanke

Playwright, Ade Solanke Speaks to The British Blacklist About Her Play 'Pandora's Box'

"I like the British Blacklist! I'm a friend on facebook, actually. You do really interesting stuff. Things have changed completely from 2 or 3 years ago." How can you not immediately take to someone who uses that as an opening greeting? This was my introduction to the multi-talented Ade Solanke, currently ...

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The British Blacklist Looks At The 1990s A Pioneering Decade of Black Film. Part One: Choices From the Past…

The British Blacklist Looks At The 1990s A Pioneering Decade of Black Film. Part One: Choices From the Past...

Part One: Choices from the Past It's never too early to start thinking about your legacy; to help you along August is the month which has been earmarked to remind you. Designated, 'What Will Be Your Legacy?' month in 2011, the intent is to spend August's 31 days taking stock, looking ...

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Sarah Jane-Crawford & Idris Elba

2014 MOBO Awards Nominations Announced!!! Idris Elba is A Surprise Winner. Voting For Nominees Now Live...

After a five year hiatus, the MOBO Awards are back in London by popular demand. Marking its 19th anniversary, the internationally established brand is celebrating nearly two decades of its growing success. This year’s emerging talents will champion the stage at The SSE Arena, Wembley on 22nd October, with the ...

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Bolaji Alakija

Bolaji Alakija

Bolaji Alakija is an emerging actor in the U.K. He developed a huge passion for theatre after creating and performing in a friend’s play in 2011. Bolaji then went on to study Performing Arts at West Thames College completing his HND (Higher National Diploma) whilst taking up extra drama school classes ...

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Kunga Dred Speaks to Director Mark One about Short Film ‘I Am Who’ Premiering at BUFF 2014

Kunga Dred Speaks to Director Mark One about Short Film 'I Am Who' Premiering at BUFF 2014

ON YOUR MARKS! In this fast paced, visually mediated world you could be forgiven for not knowing the name of Mark One Group creative agency. But you would have almost certainly seen some of the images created by this London based global reaching film and branding company. Founded by Mark One ...

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BBC Wales’ Launchpad Fund to Help Further Music Careers. Deadline to Apply 3rd November 2014

BBC Wales' Launchpad Fund to Help Further Music Careers. Deadline to Apply 3rd November 2014

The Launchpad Fund, part of the Horizons scheme to develop new contemporary music in Wales, is for those starting on their musical journey and at a crucial point in their development. Launchpad applications will be open from today to Wales-based artists and bands writing, producing and performing original contemporary popular music ...

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Labrinth

Labrinth

Timothy McKenzie  better known by his stage name Labrinth, is an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer. Initially, he was tipped to work as a producer, but Simon Cowell signed him to his record label Syco Music as a solo act. In the process, Labrinth became Cowell's first non-talent show ...

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Kwabs

Kwabs

Hailing from the United Kingdom, Kwabs follows in the footsteps of other electronically-tinged soul artists such as Sampha and James Blake, bringing his warm baritone to soul pieces informed by modern electronic music trends.   Facebook / Soundcloud / Twitter / Spotify     If any information on this page is missing or incorrect please ...

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Ella Eyre

Ella Eyre

Ella McMahon, better known by her stage name Ella Eyre, is a British singer and songwriter signed to Virgin EMI Records. She's known for her collaborations with Rudimental on their UK number one single "Waiting All Night" and Naughty Boy and Wiz Khalifa on his single "Think About It". Her debut ...

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TBB Interview with Andy Siege Director of ‘Beti and Amare’ @ 2014 BFI London Film Festival Premiere

(l-r) Beti & Amare Actor/Producer, Pascal Dawson & Director/Writer, Andy Siege BFI London Film Festival 2014

(l-r) Beti & Amare Actor/Producer, Pascal Dawson & Director/Writer, Andy Siege
BFI London Film Festival 2014

Andy Siege was born to German Aide workers and he has a certain younger Penn Jillette-ness (of Penn and Teller) about him, which is almost prophetic, given what he is attempting to achieve with his first feature Beti and Amare, showing at the 2014 BFI Film Festival.
Through his production company, Kalulu Entertainment , he managed to raise $14, 000 – mainly self (i.e. family)-financing and some via Indiegogo crowd-funding, and has produced a unique work which, I think, has all the makings of a cult classic.

Set in 1930s Ethiopia, Beti is forced to flee the WWII Italian invasion and all of the terror and violence that face a beautiful young woman. She finds sanctuary with her grandfather in a remote part in the southlands of the country, but arrives just before circumstances force him to journey away from her. Even here, she is not entirely isolated from the perils of a country at war, or from a wondrous adventure when Amare literally falls from the sky.

I went along to speak with director-producer Andy Siege (AS) and was delighted to find actor-producer Pascal Dawson (PD) was also in attendance. Both unassuming and gently spoken, they were incredibly pleased to be at the BFI and very much captivated by their project – a story to engage and challenge the audience, not least because it has a feel of being made by an African…

AS: We are both persons of colour – but we’re not African genetically. I’m Persian, partially, and he’s (PD) Chinese.

I liked the affirmation, the bold statement of solidarity and empathy which, as you’ll see, is not simply for the purposes of a PC sound-bite. So, Beti and Amare, this is your first feature, you’ve done a few short films, you’ve done a few stage plays?

AS: Yes, and audio dramas and stuff. I’ve never sent anything to a festival previously.

Aren’t you glad you did? (Uh, yeah…) You were born in Kenya which is near Ethiopia and you…

PD: I was born in Canada, in Vancouver.

Is that where you met? Because you (AS) went there to study your creative writing…?

AS: I went there to study creative writing, then I went to Europe, then I went to Bath where I did a Master’s in Political Science… I went back to Vancouver Island to study another Master’s in Business, which I quit after 2 months and I got my money back; and I went to a small film school, where I met Pascal. He was just fresh out of high school.

And now, you are both co-founders of Kalulu Entertainment! So, the concept of Beti and Amare… now that I am speaking to you and hearing more, I can see that this is really an amalgamation of many of your interests and influences. It’s been described as an art film, experimental, psychological thriller, sci fi, love story, fantasy, historical drama… How do you see it?

AS: … I think the more choice you give the viewer, without making it annoying, the nicer the experience is, and I really wanted to make something which allows the viewer to decide how they want to see it. So, you can watch it as a sci fi – Amare falls out of the sky, you know, and he protects Beti and she protects him. Or you can see it as her psychological state and dissociation in the face of violence of WWII in Ethiopia, which is what happens when we are victims of traumatic violence. We remove ourselves from the situation, sometimes creating alternate realities, perhaps not necessarily specific alternate realties with aliens. But that’s what I wanted to do.

Pascal, were you involved in the development of the story at all, or strictly as an actor and producer?

PD: Strictly as actor and producer. We did create the company together, then we went to Ethiopia and Andy wrote the script. He showed me the script and… right away I fell in love with the story, I fell in love with Amare. I didn’t have to tell him to change anything, because the script was already just perfect…

Hiwot Asres, lead actress in 'Beti and Amare'

Hiwot Asres, lead actress in ‘Beti and Amare’

For your first scenes on-screen, it’s all very expressive. Did you have to discuss how you were going to approach that or was it all there on the page?

AS: It was all there in the script. I wrote it down to hand movements…I don’t remember how many pages, but it was 120 scenes… I had thought about it for a long while, but I wrote it in 3 weeks, while we were shooting a documentary in Ethiopia.

Film makers are such multi-taskers, it actually boggles the mind! So, how did you find Hiwot Asres, who plays Beti?

AS: We went to the Pushkin Cultural Centre in Addis Ababa, which is the Russian cultural centre. Actually Pushkin was the Russian Shakespeare or Goethe. He was part-Ethiopian, as well… I gave a talk to these young film makers and invited these actors to come along to an audition, which we were holding at the University – the Addis Ababa University. Hiwot was the 8th person we saw and when she left I told Pascal, “That’s the one!” …

PD: There were still a lot of people outside – like, at least 15-20 and I said, “At least, let’s look at all of them before we make a final decision!”

AS: And I was like, “Yeah, of course, but she’s the one!” This is her first starring role. She’s been in a bunch of Ethiopian films. Ethiopian directors tend to cast a different look, so I think that’s why she’s often been a supporting character, which will hopefully change now, because she really is extremely accomplished.

Why Ethiopia? Was that from your historical studies; was it that particular period, that Italian invasion that was foremost in your mind? Because you’re actually from Nairobi…

AS: I’m a pan-Africanist, and so Haile Selassie has always interested me in that respect. He was one of the founders of the African Union and so on. I had spent some time in Ethiopia, I wrote my Master’s thesis in Ethiopia for Bath. I wanted to go back – I just love the country… They say that the Holy Grail is in Ethiopia…

Beti and Amare has been described as being very much in the style of, “… oral legends passed down through generations…” (- Durban Review, Twichfilm), and Siege admits that his writing is very oral. He found that he put a lot of himself in the movie, so a lot of it flowed naturally for him. With his creative background, Beti and Amare does reflect the oral tradition element as well as the Monomyth structure. What about the language…

AS: It was filmed in Amharic. I wrote it in English and then got a local writer Yonas An Kidane, who is also one of the writers in the movie to translate it into Amharic.

Not only promoting the continent, but also using local talent! Speaking of the continent…Presumably it was shot on location?

PD: Yes.

OK, what kind of experience was being naked under the African sun? Because you do spend a bit of time naked. The hut looks very rustic and real, how did you cope with that, or did it all help with the slight bewilderment of the character landing on a completely new world?

PD: Yeah, of course. Well, being naked was a must for the script. For the first shot… that was OK, because I was lying on my stomach, so I didn’t really have to move – I was just lying in the sun. We put some sun cream on me, otherwise I would definitely have got sunburned. I think actually, it really worked for the camera, because I had a little shine on my skin from the sun screen. So, it looked a bit science-fictiony and ethereal. The second time I was naked, that was when I had to run and that’s when I had to just let my bits dangle!
Funny story, I was in the hut and Andy was outside saying, “OK, the camera’s rolling. Whenever you’re ready, Pascal.” And I was like, “I’m not ready, I’m not ready!” He said, “It’s OK, just tell me when you’re ready, and then we can shoot it.” I said, “I’m never gonna be ready. Just yell ‘ACTION!’ and I’ll come out!”

So this score! I thought it was quite beautiful. I loved the way that some of it was hummed, using the a cappella human voice and the same passages were then translated to acoustic guitar or flute. Then you used electronic music. Who helped you with the score and is it how you imagined it?

AS: I wrote the screenplay whilst listening to and hanging out with a specific musician in Addis, called Alula Araya. He’s a refugee from Eritrea – originally a land developer – and then was in the refugee camps for 10-15 years… He got himself a box guitar and became a musician. Beti is a refugee and so when I first heard Alula play in this bar in Addis… I saw the movie. I saw what it was gonna look like, because of the music. I asked him to record the different parts of the song separately – the instrumentals and the vocals, then I got some local Ethiopian musicians to play on local instruments – the krar and the… Ethiopian flute. I recorded everything together and everything separately and then, while editing the film… I asked the flautist to do a kind of jazzy thing with it – to improvise quite a lot. That really worked well. I was able to find any kind of emotion I needed… I also intended to bring in those sci fi elements. I had a friend from Vancouver, who is schizophrenic, come up with a bunch of electronics … and I used that… Later on, I got a German musician to kind of work on it again to make it a unified score. So, a lot people worked on this score. It’s gone though a lot of stages.

Pascal, how did you feel seeing yourself as an alien (with a completely different look) put to such evocative music?

PD: Watching it for the first time, I was just so drawn in by the whole film and how Andy edited it, just made it a masterpiece. The music in it is so beautiful, I just felt really excited when I watched it for the first time…

AS: … When I’m working on something, I’m able to work on things with different part of my brain. Then when we watched the rough cut for the first time, in one go, Pascal was surprised, because it was a real movie.  I was kind of surprised as well.

… I read the Durban review from July this year. Was that the first time it was shown?

AS: No. The first time was in the main competition in Moscow at the International Film Festival. Durban was the African premiere.

Do you think there are any more African-based films for either of you?

AS: Oh yes, definitely. I’m African! I definitely wanna tell more stories… Steve McQueen, the Oscar winner said in a recent interview… he was sitting at a round table with a bunch of other directors. All of them were white Americans and he asked them straight up “Why don’t you make movies with black main characters?”… Nobody wanted to say anything. They didn’t know what to say. I saw that as encouragement…because I want to make movies with African main characters. Most Africans are black, so… Often I’m interpreted as full white, but I don’t think that should matter.

We are getting to the point where it won’t matter, but I think it’s still a novelty, certainly in this country. It’s interesting, because on the continent, in Europe… Cannes has a very good track record with African film within the competition itself and the pan-African competition… Germany, Vienna, Moscow – all of these places also seem to embrace (African film)…I have to ask about the effects. Everyone else talked about the powerful imagery, your use of colour and effects and… I think there was some animation used, from what I could see… Was that a budgetary constraint or an artistic choice, how you envisioned it…?

AS: Both… I feel like low budget… isn’t necessarily negative, because it makes you feel more creative. It makes you problem-solve and that’s when beautiful things happen. When I was editing I did them (the VFX) really simply with my effects skills. I’m not a visual effects artist at all. Then I had a specialist work on them, David Teng Olsen was, at the time, teaching animation at Wellesley in the US. He’s an artist and he got what I was asking for… I decided on this kind of 80s visual effects…

Battlestar Galactica, actually. It was very reminiscent of the original series, I thought. Now knowing that there is this blurred perception of whether its real or a psychological journey that Beti is on, it makes (it)… a lot more powerful in that respect. You come from quite a solid line of film makers on the German side of your family…(Grandson of actor Rudolf Siege (active 1958-1967) and the great-nephew of director Wolfgang Staudt, a legend himself.) Did you know your grandfather?

AS: I never met my grandfather or my great-uncle… Yes, I heard about them quite a lot. I think that had something to do with when I was really small in Zambia, wanting to become a cowboy or a film director…

Is there an acting legacy or a film making legacy in your family, Pascal?

PD: My father did do one documentary in Vietnam when he was travelling over there. But other than that there’s no film or acting legacy. He’s not with us anymore.

Can you tell me anything more about Beti’s grandfather, the actors who portrayed him?

AS: The grandfather was a local – a security guard. He wasn’t an actor at all – he was just himself. He just IS that person and I think that worked really well…I was really lucky with him.

The Militia, who are the immediate threat in this context, were they also local?

AS: Yonas An Kidane, the translator is one of the Militia; Biniyam Kore is the main rider; the main Militia is Mahdere Sisay, who is our co-producer. They weren’t actors either, apart from Delelegne Sharwe, who has done theatre.

Was there anything in particular you wanted to say or to put out there, either about your character (PD) or the film (AS) or about the company?

AS: …The name Kalulu – all over Africa there are these stories about a rabbit, who tricks the bigger animals, who isn’t strong, but he’s smart. In Zambia, his name is Kalulu… He was actually brought over to the States by slaves where he turned into the Uncle Remus stories. He came to the UK as Brer Rabbit. So Kalulu has had lots of children all over the world and one of them was Bugs Bunny! So, I like to say that Kalulu is Bugs Bunny’s grandfather. When I was a small kid, I grew up on these stories of Kalulu, because I lived quite rurally in the villages with my friends.

Kalulu take Beti and Amare up to Scotland next – to the Africa In Motion Film festival where there will be a couple of special Halloween screenings: Free/non-ticketed in Glasgow on Thursday October 30 (7pm), and £5 entry at Summerhall in Edinburgh on Friday October 31st (7pm). They are really looking forward to it, as they are going to dress up for a fun costume screening! After that, the film goes to Nigeria, then Bahamas and Singapore at the same time.

Beti and Amare showed at the BFI on October 17-19, so I apologise to the TBB faithful and to my interviewees for the late notice. However, distribution is currently through Aya Distribution. Kalulu are looking for a theatrical distributor with the hope of gaining a general release. Maybe, with the help of social media and a genuinely positive buzz, Beti and Amare will touch down again soon! See the trailer until then…

 

interview for the british blacklist by  @DescantDeb

GO TO The Afrofuturism Film Season As Part of the 2014 BFI Sci Fi Film Festival

bfi_afrofuturism_2014

The beguiling term ‘Afrofuturism’ was coined by cultural critic Mark Dery in his 1994 essay ‘Black to the Future.’ Dery was specifically addressing the work of African-American authors – including the trailblazing likes of Samuel R Delany and Octavia Butler – whose science fiction prose explored black themes within the context of developing 20th century technology.

Over the years, however, the term has come to refer more generally to works (both new and historic) which engage with ideas around imagined black futures across a variety of media and disciplines. Key reference points include magical realism, Afrocentricity and non-Western cosmologies and theology.

As well as seeking to entertain, Afrofuturistic works look to critique both the present-day dilemmas of black people and to interrogate and re-examine significant, often traumatic, events of the past (slavery, for example, is a recurring theme in Afrofuturistic texts).

Afrofuturism, then, is a broad canvas, but notable examples include the visual art of Wangechi Mutu, Jean-Michel Basquiat and graffitist Rammellzee; the performance art of Chicago-based Nick Cave; the music and cosmic imagery of Sun Ra, Parliament-Funkadelic and OutKast; and the pioneering techno of Juan Atkins and Derrick May. The most prominent current proponent of Afrofuturist aesthetics is the Archandroid herself, Janelle Monáe, whose hyper-stylised music videos have explored the realms of bondage and freedom through fashion and robotics.

Using this diverse body of ideas as a launchpad, Inside Afrofuturism spotlights some key cinematic works that have engaged with, inspired or been inspired by this ever-evolving stylistic and intellectual cornucopia. On the 40th anniversary of its release – and the 100th anniversary of the birth of its star – we present the legendary Sun Ra in Space Is the Place: a stunning swirl of cosmology, comedy and social consciousness which remains the ultimate filmic expression of Afrofuturistic ideas. Also included are forays into black-themed science fiction, documentaries which shine a spotlight on Afrofuturistic pioneers, and genre-bending global cinema which vividly conjures alternate black pasts and futures. To take a trip inside Afrofuturism is to have your horizons broadened forever.

Film Schedule:

Sankofa

Sankofa

SankofaDec 1, 2014 8:20 PM - A blistering, time-bending slavery parable which interrogates the past through a contemporary lens. This blistering parable by Ethiopian-born, US-based director Haile Gerima unspools the story of a self-absorbed black American fashion model who, while on a photo shoot in Ghana, is spiritually transported back to a plantation in the antebellum south. Here, she experiences the physical and psychic horrors of slavery, and eventually the redemptive power of community and rebellion. Sankofa is a beautiful and disturbing Afrocentric interrogation of the past through a contemporary lens.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

 

Space Is the Place -9, 2014 6:40 PM - Avant-garde musician and mystic Sun Ra stars in a one-off fusion of cosmology, comedy and social consciousness.

The late, legendary avant-garde jazz musician and mystic Sun Ra – who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in May this year – starred in the movie version of his concept album ‘Space Is the Place’: his sole fiction film appearance. This kaleidoscopic, hugely entertaining adventure rejects a linear plot in favour of a mélange of interplanetary travel, sharp social commentary, goofy pseudo-Blaxploitation stylistics, and thrilling concert performance.

Plus Afronauts (USA 2014. Dir Frances Bodomo. 13min). This stylish, brilliantly entertaining short is set on July 16 1969, when America is preparing to launch Apollo 11. Thousands of miles away, the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon. How will it end?

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty_BFI_afrofuturism_2014

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty + Skype Q&A with director Terence Nance - Nov 29, 2014 2:00 PM - An explosively creative romance that combines Afrofuturistic imagery with heartfelt reflection.

This explosively creative debut feature charts the relationship between a man (Nance) and a young woman (Minter), as it teeters on the line between platonic and romantic. Weaving an alluring tapestry of live action, home video and Afrofuturistic animation, Nance explores the fantasies, memories and emotions of a single moment in time.

Plus Touch (UK 2014. Dir Shola Amoo. 13min). A fractured, futuristic love story.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

Ornette: Made in America - Nov 29, 2014 8:45 PM - An entertaining portrait of free-form jazz musician and forward-thinker Ornette Coleman.

Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s legendary free-form jazz musician Ornette Coleman floating through a charmingly analogue rendering of outer space, in this documentary by experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke. NASA once asked Coleman to create some work to coincide with their new shuttle program, and this compelling film shows why. Thrilling performance excerpts, futuristic music videos and imaginative reenactments of Coleman’s childhood mingle to create an invigorating portrait of a unique artist and original thinker.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

Exploring AfrofuturismThe Last Angel of History_BFI_2014

Exploring Afrofuturism: The Last Angel of History

Exploring Afrofuturism: The Last Angel of History + Panel Discussion - Nov 30, 2014 3:15 PM - An intriguing blend of sci-fi parable and essay film followed by a discussion on Afrofuturist themes.

Crafted by the influential British outfit Black Audio Film Collective, The Last Angel of History is a tantalising blend of sci-fi parable and essay film, where interviews with esteemed musicians, writers and cultural critics are interwoven with the fictional story of the time-travelling ‘data thief.’

Following the screening, season curator Ashley Clark explores key ideas and issues associated with the ever-evolving Afrofuturist movement with academic Mark Bould, writer and musician Anthony Joseph and curator Zoe Whitley

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

The Brother from Another Planet - Nov 30, 2014 5:30 PM - This hugely entertaining time capsule of 80s New York doubles as a sci-fi.

Sayles’ witty urban spin on the runaway slave narrative features an expressive performance from Joe Morton as a mute, unnamed extraterrestrial who crash-lands in Harlem after a spaceship accident, and soon finds himself on the run from two mysterious white men. Stylishly shot by regular Spike Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson, Brother offers a thought-provoking spin on the use of the black image in science fiction, and celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Also screens in December.

Plus Pumzi (South Africa-Kenya 2009. Dir Wanuri Kahiu. 21min). Kenya’s first science fiction film takes a dazzling trip into a post-apocalyptic world in which water has almost run out.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

Born in Flames Discussion_BFI_2014

Born in Flames + Discussion

Born in Flames + DiscussionNov 28, 2014 8:30 PM - A dizzying, doc-style feminist sci-fi set in a future New York City.

Borden’s dizzying, doc-style feminist sci-fi is set in New York ten years after a peaceful socialist revolution has rendered all men equal, leaving women to pick up the battle. It focuses on two feminist groups, each voicing their concerns via pirate radio. Tricky issues of class, racism and sexism are broached throughout with confidence and post-punk swagger.

Plus Robots of Brixton (UK 2011. Kibwe Tavares. 6min). Tension erupts among a group of young robots attempting to survive the daily grind.

Followed by a discussion with Emma Dabiri, Jemma Desai and Sophie Mayer, chaired by Gaylene Gould.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

Afrika Bambaataa in Conversation, Hosted by Don LettsDec 1, 2014 6:20 PM - Hear from the legendary ‘godfather of hip-hop’ and founder of Universal Zulu Nation.

Alongside Sun Ra and George Clinton, Afrika Bambaataa is one of the true Afrofuturist musical pioneers. He developed the electro-funk sound with ‘Planet Rock,’ the 1982 hip-hop track that infused 808 beats with a techno-pop futurism inspired by German electronic pioneers ‘Kraftwerk.’ Combining wrap-around sunglasses with Egyptian and native American headgear, Bambaataa rocked a look that perfectly matched the ‘outer space’ vibe of the new sound he’d created. He was a seminal Bronx DJ during the 70s, and – as one of the three main originators of breakbeat DJing – he became affectionately known as ‘The Godfather’ of hip-hop culture. Through his Universal Zulu Nation collective (which includes the likes of ‘De La Soul’, ‘A Tribe Called Quest’ and ‘The Jungle Brothers’), he has helped spread black consciousness and hip-hop culture throughout the world with a message of peace, unity, love and having fun. We’re delighted to welcome this cultural icon the BFI stage to discuss Afrofuturism, cinema, music and more with DJ, musician and filmmaker Don Letts.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

 

Madison John Speaks to MOBO Nominee Afrikan Boy Ahead of This Weds’ Awards!

afrikan_boy_abcd

Olushola Ajose better known as Afrikan boy is a Grime MC artist from Woolwich, South East London who is best known for his popular song released on YouTube many years ago ’One Day I Went To Lidl’.

Since then, Afrikan Boy took some time out from the music industry to study  for a Psychology degree at Brunel University, got married, became a father and now he’s back!

Promotion is going strong for Afrikan Boy with  his album ‘The ABCD’ which features upcoming single ‘Y.A.M’ & previous cuts ‘Hit Em Up’ & ‘Dear Mama’.

Garnering a lot of support from radio including recent plays from DJ Edu (1Xtra), Huw Stephens (BBC Radio 1) & Lauren  Laverne (6Music). He  recently shared the stage with American artist, M.I.A. at Glastonbury, performed at Lovebox &  played his own set at Womad. He’s now a mobo nominee and The British Blacklist has had the pleasure of talking to and discussing his previous and upcoming events and thoughts towards the industry…

Your album “The ABCD” was recently released, what’s the feedback been like?

The feedback has been great on my album. It’s been really encouraging; it’s been inspiring. Clash magazine gave it four out of five stars and the Daily Mirror gave it four out of five stars. I think we’ve got over fifteen reviews already and they’ve all been above half so it’s good to read them and to see what tracks people take to. I’m so happy that people are really getting the concept of the album; which is to bring diversity and to break the mould from what people might assume my music should sound like.

Which song of your career thus far are you most proud of?

There’s quite a few on the album. I could say it was my first song One Day I went to Lidl, because it’s been ten years now and that song is still living in the hearts and minds of the people who love it, and it’s still keeping me breathing, it’s still feeding my family so I could say that song definitely.  Any time I perform it on stage, I just give thanks knowing that I left college after school to record this song. Speaking from my album, I would say Y.A.M is the song I’m most proud of and also Made in Africa, which is titled MIA. These two tracks I’m most proud of because firstly Y.A.M talks about motivating and really aspiring to your goals and I listen to that track literally everyday to motivate myself. M.I.A is a more spiritual track on the album where I’m discussing my inner thoughts with regards to my cultural identity and where I belong in this world.

You shared the stage with M.I.A at Lovebox this year and played your own set at “Womad”. What was the experience like for you?

Shouts out to Mia, she invited me to come play Glastonbury with her whilst I was in Nigeria and then shortly after that we done Lovebox together…that was amazing. You know on the stage as always it’s always mad love it’s always hype it’s a MIA Show. There’s chaos; unpredictability, but off stage…I got a chance to meet Nas so for me that was definitely one of my highlights of the year so far. But playing my own set at Womad is undoubtedly the best show I’ve done all year, and the feedback from the fans puts proof to the pudding. My experience at Womad was unreal, it reminded me of when I played Reading festival in 2010 and I packed out the big red tent and everyone was moshing up and down. You know someone threw a Lidl carry bag onto the stage and we really just got rowdy.

Did you expect ‘One Day I Went To Lidl’ would have led to the success that it did and what was the inspiration behind it?

Firstly there is no music video to “One Day I Went To Lidl” everything that is online has been put up by supporters fans and friends, I have never put up a visual, just to clarify. The inspiration behind it was a true story, I actually did go to Lidl in Woolwich which is the town I grow up, I went to Asda which is in Charlton. The third verse about immigration was taken from family conversations that I overheard, and the success is still growing. The testimony that I’m being asked about this song right now 10 years on is a success in itself.

At what point in your life did you realise people were responding positively to your music?

I don’t think it really hit home until a few years later. I mean one of the early indicators of people responding positively to me back then was M.IA. reaching out to me and you know opening massive doors to me that I really wouldn’t have opened on my own but the success is still continuing to grow with Lidl and I think when people respond positively it just encourages you to and just motivates you to do better and get better.

How do you think you’ve changed over time?

That’s a good question. Over time I’ve definitely developed my craft in terms of my musicianship. in terms of production and youth work, I’ve grown and I’ve learnt how to utilise my god given talents to help other people start businesses and to maximise revenue. I’ve became a husband, I’ve become a father overtime so really a lot has changed so I give thanks.

Your heritage is Nigerian. Do you include your background into your work?

“Hello Afrikan Boy” [laughs] of course I do, I don’t even need to answer this question too much because its plain and simple. From my very first track to my last track on my album my heritage is always something that’s strong; you can’t take that away from me like Kunta Kinte man.

You took some time out to complete your studies at university, what did you study and how did you keep focused on education?

I studied at Brunel university, I studied psychology and sociology graduated with a BA honours. I stayed focused because I knew I had to, because I knew that I’m getting into nearly £35,000 of debt so the least I could do was to get some grades. I did tour a lot during university and travel a lot in order to keep my music career buzzing. I don’t regret none of that because I still managed to achieve a great grade.

When did you realize that this would be the leading career path for you?

I’ve always known, I could say deep down that this was going to be my leading career path solely because when an opportunity for a day job comes up i.e I work a lot in secondary schools so when them opportunities come up I always have this battle between my heart and head in regards to, you know, if I should commit myself to a permanent position or weather I should just do it temporarily so that I could be able to free myself up to go on tour. Music definitely is my leading career, I’ve worked on it the most and it’s not going to leave me.

Do you find it difficult balancing you social life and work life?

100% I work. I’m a workaholic and I’ve just started to learn this about myself. I work when I wake up, I work when I go to sleep, I work in my dreams, I’m just constantly working and it’s important for all people who are really workaholics to take some time out. Go see some friends you haven’t seen, especially becoming a new dad as well which definitely takes you away from the social life. I have to remember to definitely go out just mingle and just chill not even for music or work purposes just for social living so I am finding it difficult, but I’m working at it.

What do you do in your spare time?

I try to go to the gym [laughs]. I try to pray.  Most importantly spend time with my family, read, listen to music just anything that relaxes me and anything that is away from work and if I actually do have spare time then I write as well which is something I do in my spare time but now it’s become work time.

If you could go back in time, is there anything you would you do differently?

I would probably release a video for “One Day I Went To Lidl” just because everyone asks me why I haven’t but now I like the fact that I haven’t because when I tell people that’s my song, mostly younger people deny, they don’t believe it there like, “nah prove it prove it”… I like the mystery and ambiguity and the kind of unknowingness about it. I like that.

If you could record with any musician around the world who would it be & why?

You should have specified if they were dead or alive. If they were dead then 2Pac, anyone alive right now I would record with would be… [pause] I don’t know Dr.Dre. I really don’t know. Seun Kuti, we are going to do something soon!

Who are your top three artists that inspire you and your work the most?

Top three artists okay number one 2Pac because he was a complex character, he knew what he stood for, he was brave, he was bold, he was a poet, he was a leader and he was a dope black man so that’s number one. Number two I would say Fela Kuti, because of his huge catalogue of work, what he’d been through and the legacy that his children are carrying on and obviously he’s the pioneer of African beats. Number three would probably be Lauren Hill because when she first came out with The Fugees the sound that they had and the conscious messages behind the lyrics and they just kept it real. So definitely Lauren Hill, that’s my top three 2Pac, Fela Kuti and Lauren Hill.

Black History Month is around the corner, do you have a black icon who inspired you?

I just named them definitely, 2Pac Shakur definitely Fela Kuti, Bob Marley who I named my son after – they inspire me because they stood up for what is right, they stayed true to their craft, they were great examples and great role models.

Thank you for the interview, I appreciate it The British Blacklist and enjoy the rest of your week.

 

interview with Afrikan Boy by Madison John / @MaddieVado  for the british blacklist

The Pan African Film Festival Announces Call for Submissions. Various Deadlines. Fees Apply

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The call for submissions is open for the 23nd Annual Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), February 12 – 22, 2015, the largest and most prestigious Black film festival in the U.S. PAFF spans 11 days, and attracts 40,000+ industry and public attendees, and schedules screenings of more than 150 films from around the globe and even award recognition for international films. The diversity of PAFF is represented by its core value of Pan-Africanism in every feature selected and its community programming including an extensive fine art show ArtFest and surrounding schools Black History Month curriculum.

“Through the years, our guiding principle of ‘Pan-Africanism’ as a movement remains to unify and provide a platform for the meaningful stories of all people of African descent worldwide – African American, Caribbean, European, Latin American, South Pacific, and Aboriginal” said Asantewa Olatunji, the director of programming for PAFF.

ELIGIBILITY:

  • PAFF accepts submissions for films and videos made by and/or about people of African descent. Filmmaker(s) need not be of African or African American descent.
  • Films should preferably depict positive and realistic images and can be of any genre — drama, comedy, horror, adventure, animation, romance, science fiction, experimental, etc.
  • Features and shorts both narrative and documentary may be submitted.
  • The film festival will accept a single submission of a work in progress; however, the final version of the film must be completed no later than December 1, 2014.

SUBMISSION DEADLINES AND FEES:

  • Regular Submission: Aug. 19 – Oct. 19 – Features $45 | Shorts $30
  • Late Submission: Oct. 20 – Nov. 19 – Features $75 | Shorts $55

Official selections begin December 3, 2014 with “roll-out” notification; final announcement will be posted to the website no later than January 5, 2015.

The PAFF competition categories are:

  • Best Narrative Feature
  • Best Narrative Short
  • Best Documentary
  • Best Director
  • First Feature
  • Audience Favorite Awards for Narrative Feature
  • Audience Favorite Awards for Favorite Documentary

Submission Guidelines:

  • Films in competition must be copyrighted no earlier than 2014.
  • With the exception of Audience Favorite Awards, all films are judged by industry professionals, selected by PAFF.
  • In addition to competition awards, other programming and festival special prizes will be awarded.

The Pan African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF) is America’s largest, and most prestigious Black film and arts festival. Each year, it screens more than 150 films made by and/or about people of African descent from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, the South Pacific, Latin America, Europe and Canada. PAFF holds the distinction of being the largest Black History Month event in the United States.

PAFF was founded in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover (“The Color Purple,” “Lethal Weapon” movie franchise), Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’Net DuBois (best known for her role as Willona in the TV series “Good Times”) and executive director, Ayuko Babu, an international legal, cultural and political consultant who specializes in African Affairs. PAFF is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the promotion of ethnic and racial respect and tolerance through the exhibit of films, art and creative expression.

The goal of PAFF is to present and showcase the broad spectrum of Black creative works, particularly those that reinforce positive images, help to destroy negative stereotypes and depict an expanded vision of the Black experience. PAFF believes film and art can lead to better understanding and foster communication between peoples of diverse cultures, races, and lifestyles, while at the same time, serve as a vehicle to initiate dialogue on the important issues of our times.

For further information / to submit your film: http://www.paff.org/

The British Blacklist Looks At The 1990s A Pioneering Decade of Black Film. Part Two: Changing the Face of Black in 23 Movies

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In Part 1, having decreed the 1990s a golden age of black film making, TBB acknowledged the quality, but lamented the themes in many of the general release movies.

Many are now dubbed ‘crime thrillers’, but had the tendency to show black characters as criminals, corrupt cops or individuals faced with poor choices. We applauded the creative approaches a handful of directors took and decided that political, educational or gritty dramas were much fewer in number. Love seemed usually to number amongst those poor choices or added dilemmas. So, we made you wait for Part 2 which, 20 years after Claudine (1972) and Sounder (1974) and warm on the heels of She’s Gotta Have It (1986), the 1990s took aspirations in love, family and career and gave us a goldmine of beautifully shot movies – 23 of which are discussed here.

Reginald Hudlin gave us high school comedy House Party in 1990 – unchaperoned, a grounded high schooler sneaking out to an illicit party to explore fledgling romances and illegal beer. Familiar? This film announced to America and the world that the mice will play when the cat’s away in black communities too – Kid’n'Play, to be exact. Whilst there was some brief gunplay, Hudlin presented us with an Homeric Odyssey-type adventure. A Chicago Sun-Times critic declared it, “a canvas… to show us black teenagers with a freshness and originality that’s rare in modern movies…” It earned four sequels – two in the 90s: House Party 2 (college pajama party – George Jackson and Doug McHenry, 1991) and House Party 3 (bachelor party – Eric Meza, 1994). House Party débuted at no.3 at the box office and earned almost 10½ times its $2.5m budget. HP2 débuted at no.5, almost quadrupling its $5m budget and HP3 débuted at no.3, making $19.2m (budget figures not available).

The 1991 Cannes Film Festival was actually dubbed the Black Croisette, bringing four African and four African Diaspora movies to worldwide attention. Three dealt with issues of love in refreshing ways.

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Jungle Fever, directed by Spike Lee (yes, Aftab’s book project) intriguingly tackled interracial love with a difference – Wesley Snipes’ architect embarks on an affair with his Italian-American temp and takes on all of the consequences. It earned a Palme d’Or nomination, but won the Ecumenical Jury Special Mention Prize and a specially created Best Supporting Actor Award for Samuel L. Jackson’s crackhead character, Gator Purify. It débuted at no. 3 and tripled its $14m budget.

Bill Duke’s period romantic comedy-drama A Rage in Harlem had Robin Givens’ gangster’s moll Imabelle fleeing to Harlem with a trunk full of gold and finding love with Forest Whitaker’s unlikely hero Jackson. Whilst US critics disparaged it, it screened In Competition and received a 5-minute standing ovation at closing credits. Harlem’s celebration party (and Ice Cube’s post-Boyz premiere party set) were the Festival’s hot-ticket events. It débuted at no. 7 and broke even with its $8m budget.

The Critic’s Prize was awarded to Young Soul Rebels, in which the black British director Isaac Julien explored the roiling tensions between the 1977 Silver Jubilee youth identities of punks, skinheads and soul boys. It was set in London’s inner city and dealt with violence and unrest. It also dealt with a homosexual relationship attempting to transcend the social, political and cultural differences, but not quite managing it. [1]. This film opened only in eight theatres but still made $¼m, a loss on its £1.2m (~$2m) budget.

I class Boomerang, 1992, as another landmark movie by Eddie Murphy, because he had already brought us a razor-sharp, loyal detective in Beverly Hills Cop (1984, 87); a near divine investigator dedicated to finding lost children in The Golden Child (1988); A dignified, elegant African aristocracy in Coming To America (1988) and a reserved 1930s nightclub owner in Harlem Nights (1989). It was no surprise, then, when Reginald Hudlin directed Murphy’s Boomerang. It was the first feature film to fully embrace and commit to celluloid a black version of the modern American Dream of affluence – a black-owned New York advertising Agency, Chantress, run by black urban professionals whose dating scene, whilst predatory and chauvinistic (it was the 90s), revolved around home-cooked candlelit meals, dog-walking and live sports games. However flawed, this narrative was of black city professionals dating. These aspirational themes had been incorporated into mainstream cinema and television since the 1950s, yet here they were for the first time in a modern black romantic comedy. This movie also continued Spike Lee’s themes of female sexual empowerment in Robin Givens’ Jacqueline. Boomerang débuted at no. 3, eventually tripling its $42m budget at the box office.

Produced by Disney, you would be forgiven for thinking Cool Runnings, 1993 (Jon Turtletaub*) was a fairytale brought to the big screen. It followed a Caribbean bob-sled team competing in the winter Olympics. You’d be wrong. When one’s dream of qualifying for the main Olympics was unfortunately derailed, this quartet of Jamaican sportsmen, who had never experienced snow, chose to train in bob-sledding and made it all the way to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Alberta, Canada. Here was entertainment taken from reality – self-determining black men besting every obstacle! Made as a comedy drama, it débuted at number 3 and more than doubled its $68m budget. Great stuff!

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In Poetic Justice (1993), John Singleton presented many things here: a female main protagonist without the film being labelled a ‘chick flick’; Justice, a hairstylist who has inherited family property and owns a cat; Justice’s burgeoning poetic talent (actually the work of Maya Angelou, RIP, narrated and read throughout the movie); a dedicated single father and a road movie. Issues which urban communities experience were represented as undertones – musical talent, violence, substance abuse and neglect, but Singleton concentrated on love and friendship and was rewarded with his romantic drama opening at no.1 and doubling its $14m budget.

Doug McHenry’s Jason’s Lyric (1994) appears to be more drama than romantic, but it did show us that amongst the working class and despite disadvantage and violence, young black adults experience a coming-of-age, as they learn how to deal with love, maturity and the meaning of commitment. It also showcased lesser known acting talent, débuted at no. 3 and almost tripled its $7m budget.

Crooklyn (Spike Lee, 1994) went where Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin*) was able to follow in 2012. Lee presented a film about community, family, love and loss from Troy’s perspective – a 9 year old girl growing up in a big family with a schoolteacher mum, a frustrated musician dad and four brothers in 1970s Brooklyn. Again, urban issues are present but not foremost, and it dealt with cancer in the black community which may not have been addressed before and rarely since. It is, nevertheless, warm and nostalgic and showed Lee’s deft hand with the urban melting pot of borough. It débuted at no. 3, but did not break even with its $14m budget.

Waiting to Exhale was Forest Whitaker’s 1995 directorial début – a romantic drama, set in Arizona with four black, thirty-something, professional females as the main protagonists. First, it was set in Arizona! Next, it centred on the friendship and support system between them – three career women and one homemaker who was an ex-career woman – and their relationships with men. By all of the number-crunching Hollywood demographics, this movie should not have opened at number one and eventually more than quadruple its $16m budget. It featured a very well-known female cast which included Whitney Houston (not really considered a ‘great actress’) and a more than decent male cast (with an uncredited cameo from Mr Snipes)! The Los Angeles Times called it a “social phenomenon”, but really, the preceding 9 films really should have taken the ‘surprise’ out of it being a ‘surprise hit’. Relatively speaking, at least 7 had been ‘hits’.

Now, I include Vampire in Brooklyn (1995, Wes Craven*) because it is a very interesting case. Two major film stars (Eddie Murphy and Angela Bassett) and a popular TV star (Kadeem Hardison from A Different World) fronted this movie. Maximillian is the sole survivor of a race of Caribbean island vampires and is on a quest for survival. To ensure perpetuation of his species, he is on a limited timetable to find the half human Dhampir of vampire kin living somewhere in New York. On the surface, this is a film about good vs evil. In actuality, this movie presents an attempt at survival at all costs and the nature of romance, loyalty and love. It obliquely examines many issues relevant to any ethnic community, including mental illness and alienation. For example, the ‘mixed race’ Rita witnessed her mother’s insanity stemming from the death of her vampire husband by vampire hunters. She fears for her own sanity and risks remaining out of place and misunderstood by society should she remain in the human world. Of course, love fixes all of that, but the film does a reasonable job of presenting the crossed purposes of multiple points of view.

vampire_in_brooklynNow then, Maximillian is suave and mysterious – check. He has the traditional swept back shoulder length vampire hair and drinks blood to survive, resulting in occasional screaming and death – check. Vampires explode in sunlight, so most vampire action must take place at night or in the dark – check. There is comic relief, a creative choice which I enjoyed. The love story and good vs evil stories arc the way they’re supposed to for American audiences. Vampire even débuted at number 3, four days before Halloween, taking most receipts during the first weekend. Yet, it ended up breaking about even with its $14m budget, receipts dropping off sharply over the next 3 weekends, but only falling out of the top 10 on the fourth. Then again, one Chicago-Sun Times critic (the same of the almost patronising HP review above) wrote, “The movie is unpleasant to look at. It’s darker than ‘Se7en,’ but without sufficient purpose, and my overall memory of it is people screaming in the shadows. To call this a comedy is a sign of optimism;…”

The horror genre, and vampirism in particular, has long been used as a metaphor for society’s outcasts. Apparently, you can’t put the metaphors into the actual roles, because that might make it ‘unpleasant to look at’. That said, in 2008 not only did vampires become effortless daywalkers, but they veritably sparkled in the sunlight! Ultimately, Vampire is included here because it had given us something never seen before or since – a suave, mysterious black vampire adept in the art of wooing.

Devil in a Blue Dress, 1995, was adapted from an award-winning 1990 novel. Carl Franklin presented a WWII army veteran (yes, we were there, too!), unfairly laid off from his factory who chooses to become a private investigator. For me, this had undertones of Chinatown (1974) and presented Denzel Washington’s Easy Rawlins choosing a non-typical path to help people, including those of his own community. This film had an authentic noirish feel and was beautifully shot, but was also interesting for a couple of other reasons. In the 1990s Washington rarely did love scenes, and they were never with white women. The bi-racial Jennifer Beals was cast as white and some of the promotional shots suggest that Devil contained a love interest between the two. It didn’t. Devil débuted at no. 3 and generated less than ⅔ of its $27m budget.

The Tuskegee Airmen 1995 (Robert Markowitz*) is an HBO TV movie which I just had to include, as it announced to the world that, not only had there really been a black contribution to WWII, but that, against all odds, there had been hugely successful black combat pilot squadron, which was constituted on the 4th July 1942. This first, out of Tuskegee Army Airfield, Alabama, was the 332nd Fighter Group. Oh, it also debunked the ‘medical fact’ that “Negroes are incapable of handling complex machinery,” including, as it did, pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance staff, support staff and instructors. They earned a Distinguished Unit Citation in 1945, a Luftwaffe nickname of the Schwarze Vogelmenschen (Black Birdmen) and the Ally nickname of Redtails or Redtail Angels because of their impressive combat record. Anthony Hemingway used this title in the big screen re-make, Red Tails, in 2012. George Lucas, an uncredited co-director, is married to the black and beautiful Mellody Hobson, chairman of Dreamworks Animation and had to use his own money to make it, having been turned down by major film studios on the premise that it had an “all-black” cast with “no major white roles.”

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Spike Lee continued his long relationship with Cannes when Girl 6, his further exploration of alternative ideas of sex and romance, screened Out-Of-Competition in 1996. Here, he presented an aspiring actress in New York who attempts to take a stand against the treatment of women in the movie industry, but has to take a job as a phone-sex operator to make ends meet. She becomes increasingly immersed within the telecom world. Eventually, she can leave it all behind, take on the movie industry again and take the rejection with a renewed strength. It débuted at no.7 and only made back ⅓ of its $12m budget.

I include Bad Boys, 1995 (Michael Bay*) because it gave us a detective duo not in a Yankee inner city, but in beautiful Miami, so, Tubbs and Trudie (Miami Vice) weren’t the only black people down there! We’d seen Martin Lawrence’s family man, Marcus Burnett, before – he lived in a family home in suburbia, which was basically Danny Glover’s Murtaugh all over again (Lethal Weapon series, 1987, 89, 92, 98). But Will Smith’s Mike Lowry was new to the big screen. Lowry was a rich kid who had inherited money and lived in a penthouse apartment with a concierge, but who chose to become a police officer. Of course, the concessions were that Lowry was a ‘player’ who had a thing for exotic dancers and Burnett was obsessed with having ‘quality time’ with this wife. Bad Boys débuted at no.1 and made back nearly 3.5 times its $19m budget in the US plus nearly 4 times its budget abroad (~$141.4m worldwide).

Soul Food, 1997, was the big family film of the 90s. As with Spike Lee’s predecessor, Crooklyn, George Tillman Jr chose the eyes of a child (11 year old Ahmad) through which to show us the Joseph family of Chicago. Longstanding traditions revolving around the large Sunday mealtime begin to suffer, with the death of the Matriarch, Big Mama Jo. Coping with this major life event heralds major changes in the lives of the close-knit and supportive family (and extended family) members. Despite featuring a lawyer quitting his job to pursue a career in music and an ex-con, Soul Food was thought to have presented ‘a more positive image of African-Americans in a Hollywood film’. It débuted at no.3 and made nearly 6 times its $7.5m budget.

Theodore Witcher’s Love Jones, 1997, was a small indie film about a poet and an unemployed photographer, who meet in a bohemian nightclub and, being immediately attracted to each other, become lovers. Their emotions take a while to catch up and their social group debate love and relationships, as Larenz Tate’s Darius Lovehall and Nia Long’s Nina Mosely try to overcome fears, self-interest and their friends’ opinions to just be together. It showed a cool, jazz-tinged side of 90s culture made up of poetry slams and finger snap appreciation amongst twenty-something black intellectuals and débuted at no.6. It just exceeded its $10m budget at the box office, but remains a cult classic today!

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Eve’s Bayou, 1997, was a landmark film for several reasons: director Karen ‘Kasi’ Lemmons is a black woman from the American South (St. Louis) and this was possibly the first time a general release black movie featured fantasy in the form of the supernatural, curses and voodoo. Lemmons presented Eve Batiste, a 10 year old from a middle class family in a prosperous St. Louis town, one hot summer, whose idyllic family life begins to crumble around her father, Dr Batiste’s, infidelity. Voodoo has been repeatedly depicted in mainstream movies, so mainstream audiences were not thrown by the prosperity of the majority black cast or even the black, female director, maybe because there was the comfort of the familiar. It was overwhelmingly positively received, débuting at no. 8, and more than doubled its $6m budget.

Beloved, 1998, (Jonathan Demme*) was a fantasy horror film starring heavyweights Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and Thandie Newton. It was set in the outskirts of post-civil war Cincinnati and follows a woman and her family as she is haunted by a poltergeist, which leads to the revelation of the sort of Sophie’s Choice love can drive a slave to. Beloved débuted at no. 5 but made back only ¼ of its $80m budget. Still, it was nominated for an Academy Award for costume design.

I’m sure that even director Kevin Rodney Sullivan would agree that 1998’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back could not have been the ’start’ of the changing face of black cinema. It certainly gave us a Cougar decades after The Graduate dared to, and before they became popular in mainstream television. Angela Bassett’s Stella – a forty something stockbroker and single mother – embarks on a Caribbean holiday romance with Taye Diggs’ younger man, also an affluent professional. Stella débuted at no.2 and more than doubled its $20m budget.

Rick Famuyiwa’s romantic comedy, The Wood, 1999, was so much more than cold feet on the eve of a wedding. Personally, I think this film exceeded 1994’s Crooklyn in childhood nostalgia. The Wood’s flashback scenes to the coming-of-age misadventures of a trio of friends is so well-observed – hair, crushes, first kisses, Prom and disastrous dancing – it’s all there. Emotionally, it reached me all the way in North-East London, and so transcended the Inglewood neighbourhood in which it was set, presenting a brighter city childhood. This utter delight débuted at no.6 and more than quadrupled its $6m budget.

Malcolm D Lee presented an impressive ensemble cast of aspiring professionals in The Best Man, 1999. The main protagonist, Taye Diggs’ writer, Harper, is on the brink of career success and a serious relationship. He attends his best friend’s wedding, over which a succession of revelations, both verbal and those included in Harper’s début novel, threaten to derail the union. This was a production from Lee’s cousin Spike’s company and it débuted at no.1, then more than tripled its $9m budget.

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Just as the decade began with a British film (YSR), so it ended with another – The Secret Laughter of Women. Directed by Peter Schwabach* and written by Misan Sagay (her first feature), it was made in 1998 (UK-Canada), but received its UK release at the London International Film Festival on November 29th 1999. This romantic comedy centred on Nia Long’s unwed mother Nimi and Colin Firth’s married Matthew negotiating cross-cultural love. Matthew is a loner and a writer and Nimi is a landscape architect living amongst her extended family. The beauty in this film was that it was set amongst a wealthy Nigerian ex-pat community on the Côte d’Azur in the South of France. Nigerian culture is beautifully observed in dress, language, humour and the ‘Parable Battle’ Nimi’s mother engages in with Nimi’s aunts and the Reverend Fola – a potential suitor for Nimi in her family’s eyes. One reviewer for The Observer wrote “… this exotic emigré community on the Cote d’Azur is neither explained nor explored…” and other reviews generally show just how uncomfortable mainstream critics can be when reviewing any work with a different culture brought to the fore [Read TBB’s Critic’s Debate review]. The Total Film reviewer complained about “… a disappointingly predictable trajectory…” when most general release films follow the Monomyth formula of the Hero’s Journey (another article for another day). Box office stats were not available.

The Legacy

The dawn of serious film production by black talent which began in the 1980s was raised up and gained momentum in the 1990s. Amidst the stifling over-representation of crime thrillers of every squalid stripe, these 23 films showcased a lot of black film making talent displaying versatility across multiple genres. This was not just in acting, but in writing, directing and cinematography too.
You can say what you like about Eddie Murphy, but in creating his production company, he was able to attempt themes in his movies that would never have been green-lit otherwise, and which have not generally been attempted since. Along with all of these films, revisit some and view them with wiser eyes. Mainstream critics’ opinions are often influenced by their own rigid perceptions and completely miss not only the cultural references which make these films enjoyable, but also the cultural importance of seeing black represented in a different light!

The 90s prove that black film makers are good at navigating ensemble pieces dealing with relationships; at storytelling from a child’s perspective; at giving a film with a female cast (or lead) gender cross-over appeal; at believably representing the opposite sex on screen (Forest Whitaker and Kasi Lemmons in particular); at making films which do translate overseas; at producing movies which, on average, début in the top five during an opening weekend and, on average, generate at least double their budget costs in box office receipts. This means that black films make money for their investors!

Further, Soul Food inspired a spin off TV series which aired 74 episodes over 5 seasons (Showtime, 2000-2004) and is the longest-running series of its ‘kind’; Love Jones is still regarded as a cult classic; House Party, Bad Boys and The Best Man both scored multi-million dollar-generating sequels, with Bad Boys and Waiting to Exhale both currently in sequel talks; The Noughties continued the proliferation of general release black movies and gave us further classics like Love and Basketball (Gina Prince Bythewood, 2000), Brown Sugar (Rick Famuyiwa, 2002), Something New (Sanaa Hamri, 2006) and This Christmas (Preston A Whitmore II, 2007).

This year alone, Kevin Hart had two no.1 films Ride Along (Tim Story) which made over $153m and Think Like A Man Too (Tim Story, $65.2m). About Last Night (Steve Pink*) débuted at no.2 and made $48m. Each of these films generated box office receipts which were over 86% domestic (USA). Whilst Exhale and Stella generated mainly domestic revenue, this might be the first time a black male lead achieved it in a major grossing film.
Although many actors other than the quite brilliant Washington, Snipes, Jackson, Smith and Murphy were pushed very much to the fore, sadly, one legacy has been that many of the most prolific directors, writers and actors of that time have not sustained that decade of high-flying promise.

Legacy for the rest of the African Diaspora

On the other hand, many US States now host their own black film festivals, which are often international. The British romantic drama Hard Time Bus (Dean Charles, 2014) débuted in the Hollywood Black Film Festival in 2013, winning Best Feature Film, which was followed by selections for the American Black Film Festival (New York) and the BBIFF See below).
Worldwide, there are an increasing number of film festivals dedicated to the Diaspora-influenced point of view: several in Canada (Montreal and Toronto), Berlin, Africa (including The Pan-Africa International Film Festival, Cannes) and the Caribbean (Bahamas, Belize Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. And of course African film has had a solid track record at Cannes, where Jamaica’s strong 1970s film output has been gathering momentum.

The script of Chris Browne’s Ghetta Life won the Hartley Merrill International Screenplay Award at Cannes 2006, then became the first Jamaican film featuring an all-Jamaican cast to be fully funded by Jamaicans. It won the Best Pitch Award at the 2011 Marché du Film. Also presented that year was Pascale Obolo’s Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle (Trinidad & Tobago). This year, Mary Wells’ Kingston Paradise débuted at the Marché du Film and was the first Jamaican movie to be represented at this event by a reputable Hollywood commercial film distributor and agent (California Pictures, LA).

Here in the UK, there has been growth of afro-centric and urban film festivals and awards such as Screen Nation Film & TV Awards, the Movie Video & Screen Awards (MViSAs) at Birmingham Black International Film Festival (BBIFF), the Edinburgh African Film Festival, Welcome to Busseywood (Peckham & Nunhead Free Film Festival), and the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF). British Comedy Gone Too Far! (Destiny Ekaragha, 2013) won the 2013 London Comedy Film Festival Best New Comedy Award.
So, there are many, many more platforms for black film makers to showcase their brand and gain recognition in the feature film arena. As regards directors, Richard Ayoade, Steve McQueen and Amma Assante are regularly included on watch lists for up and coming British directors and McQueen has been trailblazing down the Awards route  [listen to his artistic journey].

October, Black History Month 2014

The inaugural Back 2 Black @ BAFTA Black History Month event to celebrate the achievements, culture and history of African-Caribbean people in the UK took place on October 5th in central London [read TBB's review].
Award-winning British comedy Gone Too Far! has been released this October. Catch it, support it and maybe the legacy of the 90s will push us all to do greater things.

 

article for the british blacklist by  @DescantDeb

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