I don’t really have the words for what’s been going on the past week.
— Soham Gadre
Now the films:
Film Africa (various artists)
BAM and African Film Festival’s “Film Africa” series offers a brilliantly curated selection of films speaking on the Black experience around the world, from Mother of George’s examination of the Yoruba immigrant community in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood to Aya of Yop City, an animated film on post-colonial working class life in the Ivory Coast. Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki is the first Kenyan film to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival; Senegalese music sensation Youssou N’Dour as both artist and humanitarian is documented in Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love. Rare gems, all.
African Film Festival, Inc. is dedicated to advancing an enhanced understanding of African culture through cinema and video.
BAM, or the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is a multi-arts venue in Brooklyn, NY.
Body and Soul (dir. Oscar Micheaux, 1925)
via The Criterion Channel (free, for a limited time)
When it comes to the history of Black filmmaking, major film publications seem unable to look back very far, with their coverage and recommendations often recycling the same myopic names and titles. So the generosity of the Criterion Collection, currently streaming all of their selections by Black filmmakers for free, is welcome on multiple levels. I am singling out for recommendation Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul, a movie made in 1925—before the Oscars even existed. Starring the unforgettable Paul Robeson, it tells the story of a preacher and an inventor, and examines the long and troubling alliance between the Christian church and racism in America. We’ve heard amid today’s protests that “we need to connect back with God”; this film considers the deep, cutting history of what that means.
The Criterion Channel is a subscription streaming service from the Criterion Collection offering classic and art cinema; a more refined and adventurous alternative to the corporate streaming services.
Ganja & Hess (dir. Bill Gunn, 1973)
via Kanopy (free, with a library card or university student ID)
Horror has long been the genre of the unwanted, the rejected, and all those who dare to confront the system. Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess injects the horror genre with Blaxploitation, witchcraft, and the history of forced black assimilation into American culture.
Kanopy partners with public libraries and universities to give people an opportunity to watch movies for free.
Why Howard Beach? (dir. Thulani Davis, 1987)
via Paper Tiger Television (free)
We are being hit with video after video of confrontation between peaceful protestors and violent cops, as well as a torrent of media pieces that deliberately distort the reality of what is happening on the streets. When we look back at this moment years from now, we may ask, “what caused this?” Was the murder of George Floyd by police the final crack that broke the dam?
Thulani Davis confronts similar questions following the Howard Beach Incident, in which a group of white teens viciously assaulted three black men.
Paper Tiger Television is a non-profit collective that produces and distributes public video to combat the negative influence of mass media.
Black is… Black Ain’t (dir. Marlon Riggs, 1995)
via California Newsreel ($2.99)
Marlon Riggs’s ambitious film attempts to paint the Black experience in America through the guiding voices of its most influential figures, including Angela Davis, bell hooks, Michele Wallace, and Cornel West. A powerful educational film.
California Newsreel is a film production and distribution company specializing in films for activists and organizers geared towards creating social change.
The Popula Film Club brings you worthwhile options to stream, chosen with a view to quality, and to withholding as much money as possible from the oligarchs and monopolists of Amazon, Netflix, YouTube and the like.
Please send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, POPULA FILM CLUB.