Author Archives: BFC/A

About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions.

Roger Ross Williams’ GOD LOVES UGANDA at IU Cinema

“I thought about following the activists – brave and admirable men and women…But I was more curious about the people who, in effect, wanted to kill me.”

- Roger Ross Williams, Director/Producer, GOD LOVES UGANDA

Roger Ross Williams

Roger Ross Williams

On Sunday, September 7th, at 3:00 PM, the Indiana University Cinema will present a free screening of GOD LOVES UGANDA, the 2013 documentary produced and directed by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams (MUSIC BY PRUDENCE).  Eric Love, Director, Office of Diversity Education, and Barbara Dennis, Associate Professor in the School of Education, will be present for a discussion after the film.  This event is sponsored by IU’s GLBT Student Support Services, the Office of Diversity Education (a unit of the Office of Diversity, Equity, & Multicultural Affairs), the Commission on Multicultural Understanding, the Black Film Center/Archive, and IU Cinema.


Bishop Christopher Senyonjo visiting a rural school in Uganda. Photo Credit: Crispin Buxton

From the film’s website:

As an American-influenced bill to make homosexuality punishable by death wins widespread support, tension in Uganda mounts and an atmosphere of murderous hatred takes hold. The film reveals the conflicting motives of faith and greed, ecstasy and egotism, among Ugandan ministers, American evangelical leaders and the foot soldiers of a theology that sees Uganda as ground zero in a battle for billions of souls.

Through verité, interviews, and hidden camera footage – and with unprecedented access – GOD LOVES UGANDA takes viewers inside the evangelical movement in both the US and Uganda.

For more information, please visit the IU Cinema website at



Restored and Resurrected: Director’s Cut of GANJA & HESS at IU Cinema 8/29

“I’ve liked every script I’ve ever written, I’ve hated every movie made from them.” – Bill Gunn


Bill Gunn (1929-1989) never liked what happened to his scripts in the hands of another director. In 1969, Norman Jewison needed a writer for his new project The Landlord, an adaptation of Kristen Hunter’s novel of the same name. Love Story author Erich Segal, at the time a professor of Greek literature at Yale, had written a draft, but Jewison deemed it “not ethnic enough” for a film that Jewison was promoting to Variety as “the first all-negro comedy.”[1] Bill Gunn had just finished the script for The Angel Levine (Jan Kadar, 1970), which was going into production for Belafonte Enterprises, and Harry Belafonte’s producing partner Chiz Schultz recommended Gunn to his friend Norm. Gunn revamped The Landlord, giving the content a more political edge and adding brilliant dialog that struck a nerve. In one of the film’s most poignant final moments, Diana Sands’ character Fanny asks Beau Bridges’ Elgar to put their love child up for adoption, declaring him as white. When Elgar asks why, Fanny replies with a line that’s utterly heartbreaking in its simplicity and truth: “Because I want him to grow up like you. Casual.”

Gunn spent a good deal of time on set with first time director Hal Ashby, who Jewison had turned the film over to at the last minute, but expressed frustration with the final work. Determined to direct his own scripts with complete creative control, he took his experience on set along with actress Marlene Clark (a nightclub dancer in The Landlord) to Nyack, NY and began working on a film that would truly defy generic categorization, Ganja and Hess.


Gunn had previously written and directed Stop in 1970 for Warner Brothers, making him the second African American director hired for a major studio project. Yet, the studio refused to release the film, which received an X rating from the MPAA and remains rarely seen. Despite these setbacks (including the lackluster BO performances of The Landlord and Angel Levine), Gunn remained faithful to his artistic vision, following with his most ambitious work to date– a spiritual mediation on Black ritual and desire in the guise of a vampire film. Ganja and Hess premiered in 1973 at Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim, but its U.S. producers Kelly-Jordan Enterprises missed the appeal of Gunn’s experimental exploration. Cutting almost 40 minutes from Gunn’s film, the completely re-edited version was promoted as a Blaxploitation horror film, which had become all the rage following the box office success of Blacula (1972). Additional versions of the film were later released under alternate titles, including Double Possession and Blood Couple. Yet, the original print remained at the Museum of Modern art, becoming one of its most popular rentals and earning the status of cult classic.


Given Gunn’s dissatisfaction with other director’s interpretations of his scripts, one wonders how he would feel about Spike Lee’s Ganja and Hess adaptationDa Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014).


The restored director’s cut of Ganja and Hess will screen on 35mm on Friday, August 29 a the Indiana University Cinema. Print courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

[1] Variety, April 10, 1969. See also Chris Sieving’s chapter on The Landlord, ” Hollywood meets New Hollywood” in his book, Soul Searching: Black-Themed Cinema from the March on Washington to the Rise of Blaxploitation (Wesleyan, 2011).

For More on Gunn & Ganja and Hess:

Manthia Diawara and Phyllis Klotman’s essential Jump Cut essay, “Ganja and Hess: Vampires, Sex, and Addiction”

Shadow and Act piece on the (possible) DVD release of Bill Gunn’s Stop

“Lone Wolf in Black America: A Bill Gunn Retrospective” from Moving Image Arts Film Journal

And a great feature on the house rented by Bill Gunn and creative partner & composer Sam Waymon (brother of Nina Simone!) during the production of Ganja & Hess: “Sam Waymon Lived Here”

Rachel Boynton’s BIG MEN premieres on PBS POV on Monday, Aug. 25

“If you want to know how the world works, as opposed to how we are told it works – or how we wish it might work – you need to see ‘Big Men,’ a remarkable new investigative documentary about oil, money, Africa and America that comes with Brad Pitt’s name attached as executive producer but was directed by Rachel Boynton.”      - Andrew O’Hehir,



In 2007, American oil company Kosmos Energy discovered the first oil in the history of the West African Republic of Ghana. Award winning documentary filmmaker Rachel Boynton (Our Brand is Crisis, 2006) gained unprecedented access to the company and the cooperation of its leading executives. At the same time, Boynton researched and filmed for over seven years in Nigeria and Ghana,  with admittance into two Ghanian administrations, and into the camp of one of the region’s key militant groups, The Deadly Underdogs. Big Men follows the extraordinarily complex relations between these groups, providing a rare peek into the fascinating and deeply unsettling dealings of the oil business and its effects on the African region from the initial striking of “first oil.”  In his laudatory review, Scott Foundas of Variety describes the film as a “real life Chinatown” or There Will be Blood.

Backed by a team of renowned executive producers, including Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner of Plan B Entertainment,  Boynton’s independently produced and directed investigative work screened to great acclaim at the 2013 Tribeca film festival and will premiere on PBS as part of its POV series on Monday, August 25th (check local listings on the POV website, here).


Check out MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” interview with Rachel Boynton here.

Additional Media & Publicity:

BIG MEN official website

Hollywood Reporter Interview with Rachel Boynton and Brad Pitt

NY Times Critic’s Pick: Jeannette Catsoulis’ Review, “Oil, Money, and Where it Flows”



- Noelle Griffis









Cinema Journal’s “In Focus: African American Caucus” asks: What is “Black Film”?

53-4coverStuart Hall’s 1992 essay “What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” raised a fundamental question that continues to spark debate over 20 years later. The provocation lies at the heart of a series of essays that appear in the Summer 2014 edition of Cinema Journal , featured in the special section “In Focus: African American Caucus.” Members of the caucus, including Indiana University Professor Terri Francis, investigate the relationship between identity politics and media scholarship. The six contributing scholars and filmmakers—Anna Everett, Mark D. Cunningham, Allyson Nadia Field, Nina Cartier, Zeinabu irene Davis, and Francis—consider film-making, pedagogy, and scholarship in relation to individual and often intensely personal interpretations of the meaning of the “Black” in Black film and media.

Despite the diverse perspectives offered (which are not always in agreement), a consensus emerges regarding the need to recognize rigorous media scholarship and experience as not only compatible, but essential to the study of Black popular culture (126). In “Who’s ‘We,’ White Man?” Scholarship, Teaching and Identity Politics in African American Media Studies,” Allyson Nadia Field writes, “While attentive to questions of identity politics, privilege, subject position, and representation, these concerns should not obfuscate other approaches, such as formal analysis, historical contextualization, and industrial situation” (136). Terri Francis takes this notion a step further in her essay, “Whose ‘Black Film’ Is This? The Pragmatics and Pathos of Black Film Scholarship,” explaining that the conventional methodological approaches cannot simply be mapped on to Black film; instead, considering Black film in relation to concepts of genre, industry economics, narrative, and style, should productively disrupt and challenge cinema studies frameworks because Black film-making “bends and resists these very categories” (147). Both Field and Francis are centrally concerned with avoiding the pitfalls of teaching Black film—either as a marginalized week on racial representation, or as a discrete category of film-making (i.e. the films by Black filmmakers approach) that falls short of dealing with the position of Black media in relation to the industry at large.

Other highlights include Anna Everett’s consideration of the role that digital technologies have played in the establishment of the first Black American media moguls, following the lead of in 1998. Everett has a decidedly positive view of participatory media culture, offering Issa Rae’s success with the web series, Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, as evidence that social media outlets such as YouTube may open the door for a new wave of Black media innovators. Independent filmmaker and University of California, San Diego Professor Zeinabu irene Davis provides an artist’s perspective on the need for the recognition of “Black film” as a distinct category. As a member of the L.A. Rebellion—the first group of African American filmmakers to graduate from UCLA’s film school—Davis states candidly that she sees it as her responsibility to create films featuring Black subjects for a Black audience, due to the failure of most mainstream media to provide a range of identifiable representations.


Samuel L. Jackson appears on the cover of the CJ issue as “Senor Love Daddy,” whose direct address confronts the reader as it did the viewer in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). Through this icon of Black popular culture, series editors Beretta E. Smith-Shomade, Racquel Gates, and Miriam J. Petty recall the significance of the “roll call,” as performed by Love Daddy in the film, within Black culture: “Naming oneself, naming pioneers, naming the dead and the living, provides a way to establish a sense of lineage and communal bonds” (123). Noting that the roll call has roots in African American tradition, the authors explain that in African American culture, it has also served as a way of making a space for oneself at the exclusionary table of American society. While the “In Focus” section features complex debates surrounding the very meaning of “Black” and the responsibilities of all media scholars to teach Black cinema without marginalizing it as a side note in film history, the invocation of the roll call serves as a reminder that the recognition and celebration of Black films and filmmakers always provides an excellent starting place. As Francis states so eloquently at the conclusion of her essay: “In the end, simply introducing students to Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, and outstanding works like Chameleon Street (Wendell B. Harris, Jr., 1989) and Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) generates new, enthusiastic, and better-informed audiences—you can’t unsee those films” (150).

~Noelle Griffis

Last Week of Fundraising for #DirectedbyWomen Global Celebration

Barbara Ann O’Leary’s #DirectedbyWomen Seed & Spark crowdfunding campaign just passed the halfway mark towards its $20k seed fund goal, with one week left to go. O’Leary envisions a 15-day global film party to celebrate the diversity of female film-making. Most conversations about women filmmakers focus on the lack of women at the helm of major industry vehicles, but O’ Leary would like to bring more attention to the thousands of women creating diverse and dynamic work through a range of  practices (i.e. independent, experimental, documentary, shorts, in addition to commercial features). In fact, O’Leary has compiled a list through imdb of over 5,000 female filmmakers that you can check out here. Screening events will range from grassroots  parties to larger events at established cinemas around the world. According to O’Leary, “A successful campaign will position us to extend the invitation far and wide, and give us a chance to create online structures that will make it really easy for people to find out about events celebrating films #DirectedbyWomen.”  The BFC/A’s Noelle Griffis corresponded via email with O’Leary to learn more about the project, and the full interview is printed below. The fundraising campaign ends mid-day, Thursday August 7, so follow the Seed & Spark page and spread the word!
Filmmaker and BFC/A graphic designer Joyce “Eli” Bevins created a pitch video for the #DirectedbyWomen Seed & Spark campaign with her sister and collaborator Lu Bevins. I asked Eli what motivated her to get involved with #DirectedbyWomen, and she responded: “Women directors and filmmakers are often overlooked and underrepresented in the film industry. This campaign is a great way to spread the word about films directed by women, encourages support and it serves as a platform to help women directors and their work obtain more exposure on a global scale. For these reasons I wanted to help Barbra promote and spread the vision of the Directed by Women Campaign. I see this campaign as the next BIG thing for women directors everywhere.”
BFC/A: What is the Directed by Women (#DirectedbyWomen) project?
O’Leary: #DirectedbyWomen is a worldwide Film Viewing Party celebrating women filmmakers and their work.  Next year from September 1-15, 2015, film lovers around the world will spend 15 intensive, glorious days watching films #DirectedbyWomen either on their own in what I call Solo Celebrations, in House Parties where they’ll share the experience with family and friends, or at community centers and cinemas where the greater film loving community can come together to enjoy films and show appreciation for the women who directed them.  I envision many filmmakers having the chance to participate in person in some events to heighten the sense of appreciation.This is a highly distributed, non-hierachical event so people will be making their own choices about what to screen but the #DirectedbyWomen project will be supporting film lovers throughout the year as we prepare for this event with information that will help them learn about women filmmakers and how to go about arranging screening rights for their work. We’ll also be facilitating sharing about all the events so film lovers can learn about and vicariously enjoy the other celebrations happening around the world.
BFC/A: What motivated you to organize this ambitious global initiative, and what are some of your goals?

O’Leary: One thing that motivated me to launch this party was my growing awareness of the large number of films #DirectedbyWomen. A little over a year ago I casually started a list for my own use, but it quickly grew. At the moment there are 5,384  Women Film Directors active in the past decade on the list. Almost every day more women directors come to my attention, so I’m confident this list reflects a small percentage of the women who are actually out there making films, web series, TV, etc. And yet I hear often that there are very few women directors. It seemed that it would be great to have a fun, engaging way for film lovers to notice and appreciate these films. I made a list of 10 Reasons to Throw a Worldwide Film Viewing Party and shared it online.  I’m hoping film lovers around the globe will have a great time finding out about films they didn’t know about or haven’t seen in addition to screening films they’ve already seen and fallen in love with. I’m hoping people will feel empowered to create more opportunities in their own lives and in their communities for films #DirectedbyWomen to be screened and enjoyed. It would be wonderful if women filmmakers found a new level of appreciation for their work with expanded opportunities to create more in the future.  Above all I’d like film lovers everywhere to feel excited about being part of a global celebration happening in a concentrated period of time.  I chose 15 days, because it felt like it would give everyone sufficient time to work one or more film viewing parties into their busy lives.

BFC/A: Is there something  about female film-making (as opposed to other creative or economic ventures lead by women) that makes it a particularly interesting or important site for recognizing gender inequality and celebrating female empowerment?

 O’Leary: I’m putting my attention on celebrating filmmakers, because I’m a film lover.  I absolutely adore film and I want to see the film world flourish robustly, which to me means being open to creative expression from as diverse a group of film artists as possible.  The invitation to focus on women filmmakers is a call to bring greater balance into the film world.To me this process is about embracing creativity wherever it arises. The Global Film Viewing Party is an opportunity to invite men and women to demonstrate their commitment to creating a culture of appreciation and inclusivity within the global film community.
BFC/A: Could you talk a little about how you envision a “global film community”? Is this something extant, or something that we need to develop?
O’Leary: Oh, yeah.  Well, I think the global film community is comprised of everyone who makes, shares, or views films or other motion pictures. By the way I like the word film, so I use it. I know there’s a lot of conversation around what language most effectively embraces the changing forms of motion picture expression, but for now I primarily stick with film, but hope people will recognize I include all motion pictures.  So my sense of the global film community is that this Global Film Viewing Party has the potential to help people in different parts of the world as well as people who are attracted to different genres and other subcultures to cohere around this one celebration and allow perceptions to shift. It has the potential to facilitate new ways of seeing what is actually being created.
BFC/A: Tell us about the #DirectedbyWomen crowdfunding campaign.
O’Leary: In order to get the Global Film Viewing Party planning off the ground we’re currently in the process of crowdfunding on Seed&Spark, which is a crowdfunding and streaming hybrid platform with a strong commitment to independent filmmaking. Seed&Spark is a curated space so I’m thrilled they invited #DirectedbyWomen to run our campaign in their community. We’re seeking in kind support in addition to money. Anyone excited to support this celebratory approach to raising awareness of women filmmakers and their work can help the campaign get the greenlight by offering cash OR choose the wishlist loan option to volunteer skills, time and energy to the campaign.  This is a community engagement initiative so everyone is invited to consider how they can make small or large contributions to help us succeed.  Possible ways to contribute include:
* Social media outreach
* Partnership building – what’s that look like to you? Let’s discuss!
* creation of short video essays highlighting films #DirectedbyWomen
* building information about women film directors and their work as a way to inform film lovers and help them choose films to celebrate
* creating Wayfinder Tributes to honor individuals and groups who work tirelessly to make space for women filmmakers to flourish in the worldThanks for the opportunity to share about #DirectedbyWomen. I’ve greatly appreciated BFC/A’s commitment to women filmmakers and have relished the filmmaker visits to IU Cinema, which you’ve helped sponsor. That has also been a real inspiration for this global celebration.  I want the entire world to fall madly in love with women filmmakers and their work. We’re going to have a great time and hope film lovers and filmmakers everywhere dive in and enjoy the process.

Directed by Women: a Worldwide Film Viewing Party from O’Leary’s Reel Life on Vimeo.

Seed & Spark Campaign link:
IMDB list of 5,300+ female filmmakers:

BFC/A staffer Joyce Bevins wins film award

The Black Film Center/Archive congratulates Joyce “Eli” and Jean “Lu” Bevins on receiving the Elfenworks Social Justice Award from the Campus MovieFest Hollywood (CMF) for their short film, Systematic Living.  Eli, a second-year Masters student in the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing, recently joined the BFC/A staff as a summer archive assistant.


Campus MovieFest (CMF), the world’s largest student film festival, hosted its 13th annual CMF Hollywood student film summit from June 19-22, 2014 at Universal Studios. Each student contestant delivers a 5 minute-or less-short film, with only a week to shoot the film and submit it. Speaking about the event, the CMF website stated:

Nearly 1,000 student filmmakers, family and friends from 60 participating college campuses attended the weekend of events including educational workshops, advanced screenings, networking and professional opportunities, screenings of over 200 in-competition short films, and the glamorous red carpet CMF Hollywood Awards at the Universal Globe Theatre!


Systematic Living was submitted by Eli Lu Productions, the production company that Eli started in 2009 with her twin sister, Jean “Lu” Bevins. Their film, Systematic Living, is about a young woman who uses spoken word to spread hope and change as her dreams are a constant reminder of her harsh reality, as she lives in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. The short was filmed, directed, and produced by Jean, while Eli edited, wrote, directed, and starred in the film as the character Niya. As a winner, the sisters will receive $10,000 toward their next film project and their film will be aired on Virgin America Airlines.


BFC/A staff member Katrina Overby had the opportunity to interview Joyce “Eli” Bevins about her filmmaking career and her inspiration for her film, Systematic Living. Below is a portion of their conversation that took place via email:

KO: First off, congratulations on your award! How long have you been into filmmaking?

JB: Thank you. Well my twin sister and I started Eli Lu Productions in 2009 on the campus of Elizabeth City State University. However, in our first couple of years we only focused on writing, directing and producing stage plays that eventually led to filmmaking. We decided to film one of our stage plays as a web series in 2011-2012 to reach a larger audience. Following the web series we began doing short films and documentaries. And that is pretty much how we got involved in filmmaking.

KO: When or how did you find out about the Campus MovieFest (CMF) and when did you decide that you wanted to enter a film into the contest? What made you choose the social justice category?

JB: A cast member of mine in the “Revolution” emergent theater experience showcase here on campus introduced me to CMF. He explained that students have to shoot and submit their films in less than a week for the competition. At that moment my sister and I decided that we were up for the challenge and wanted to express our creativity through film. We decided to enter the social justice category because we wanted to create a film that changes the way people think and a film that would bring awareness to poverty, crime, and injustice in America. Also, we recently produced the “Mill Creek Documentary: Past, Present, and Future” film in Philadelphia, PA, which highlights issues surrounding poverty and crime that once plague the Mill Creek Community. We thought about this film and decided that we wanted to create another film that will empower and influence change.

 KO: As your film Systematic Living discusses the struggle of economic disadvantages, poverty, injustice, and crime, where did you get the inspiration for the theme of the film? Where was the location of the film?

 JB: The concept “systematic living” is a term my sister created and would often use back in high school to explain our economy. The inspiration for the film comes from our experience of growing up in West Philadelphia. Unfortunately, some areas in Philadelphia have high crime rates, poverty and blight. These things would often keep us up at night, from loud gunshots in the middle of the night to sirens that would often meet us in our dreams. From looking at our economy, even I used to question if it was possible to dream physically and metaphorically. So we wanted our film to be the voice of the youth growing up in such environments. That is where the inspiration came from. We filmed everything in Bloomington and around IU’s campus for the most part. For the competition we were ONLY allowed to use about 30 seconds of old footage. The shots of poverty are actually from our Mill Creek Documentary that we filmed in Philadelphia.

KO: How did you decide to use poetry as a way to interpret and present the message of the film? Was this an original piece written by you?

JB: My sister and I are both poets. We often use poetry as a way of expression, storytelling and even the way we often dealt/deal with pain. We decided to use poetry to convey the message to our audience because we figured this medium would be captivating. We also wanted our audience to be moved by the poem. And yes, the poem was an original piece that I wrote. Honestly, it was written from the point of view of how I once felt as a teen and how many others felt/feel.

KO: How long was the process for putting this film together? In terms of writing the script, filming, and editing?

JB: Well, originally we wanted to cast people to act out the story line but since we were against time and could not find actors in one week, my sister and I decided to do a “one-man-show”. We altered the story so that I could do all the parts including pulling the trigger, and playing the homeless person, etc. We did two days of filming on the 3rd day of the filming week. Walking across campus we would just say, “Oh lets film here or there”. A lot of the filming was just on the spot shots from walking across campus or around Bloomington. The night before submission we decided not to finish the project but changed our minds around midnight. I stayed up all night with no sleep to get it finished. To be exact I finished editing just a little over two hours before it was due.

KO: Were you and your sister on the “same page” in terms of how you wanted the film to look aesthetically and what you wanted the message to be? Who was the “brains” behind the project?

JB: My sister and I agreed on the overall theme and category that we wanted to enter for the competition. However, we kept changing the story line because we did not have the actors to portray the story. We had plenty of disagreements during the filming process. We did not think that we would be able to get our message across with no actors. This is one of the reasons why we decided not to finish the project the night before but eventually changed our minds and allowed the poem to deliver the message.

KO: What is your next film project you’re working on?

JB: My sister and I are currently working on our first thriller and screenplay that we wrote together called “When Karma Calls”. We are also planning to work on a poetry web show in the fall. Separately we both have our own screenplays that we are working on.

 ~Katrina Overby



Please see the following link to view Systematic Living: (video: Systematic Living)

Follow this link to Eli Lu Productions website:

Resources: (CMF Website)

In Remembrance of Ruby Dee

Legendary stage and screen actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist Ruby Dee, originally Ruby Ann Wallace, passed away on June 11th in New Rochelle, NY, at the age of 91, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Her notable screen appearances included: The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) directed by Alfred E. Green; A Raisin in the Sun (1961) directed by Daniel Petrie; Do the Right Thing (1989) directed by Spike Lee; and American Gangster (2007) directed by Ridley Scott. Ruby Dee’s acting career has spanned over several decades and generations of directors, actors, and actresses. She has worked with legendary Black film stars such as Sidney Poitier, Diana Sands, and Harry Belafonte, as well as current Hollywood stars like Denzel Washington and Samuel Jackson.


Dee also frequently co-starred with her husband, American film, television, and Broadway actor, director, poet, playwright, author, and social activist Ossie Davis. The couple appeared in 11 stage productions and five films together including Ruby Dee’s 1995 stage play Two Hah Hahs and a Homebo,y featuring their son Guy Davis, and in the Delta Sigma Theta film production, Countdown at Kusini, aka Cool Red (1976). Dee and Davis are also well known for the co-authored autobiography that detailed their public life as political activists and their private life decision to have an open marriage. In November 2005, the couple was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award, presented by the National Civil Rights Museum located in Memphis.

Ruby Dee was very active politically throughout her life and career, along with Davis. She was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Dee and Davis were personal friends with civil rights activists Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Dee was also a member of the African American female sorority Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Dee and Davis assisted the sorority in engaging in media activism and making history by being the first Black women’s organization to create, produce, and finance a feature-length Hollywood-style film titled Countdown at Kusini aka Cool Red (1976). The film was directed Ossie Davis and he, Ruby Dee, and Greg Morris starred in the film.


Days after her passing, Ruby Dee’s grandson Muta’Ali premiered his documentary, Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee, depicting about Dee and Davis exploring their lives together as they evolved around love, art, and activism. Muta’Ali explained:

I know Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee simply as Grandpa and Gram Ruby. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to examine more deeply the lives and careers of my grandparents and, with my grandmother Ruby, explore the pivotal, personal and professional choices she and Ossie made that lead them to achieve success in their marriage, their careers, their contribution to the civil rights movement and more.

He continued:

The hope is to, through documenting their story, discover the secrets of divine love; romantic, professional, spiritual, communal, and self love. By telling the story of their marvelous lives and juxtaposing past with present, I’ll learn for myself and everyone who looks on what is essential to life and to love.

Ruby Dee was an inspiration to many and she helped pave the way for not only generations of young Black actors and actresses but also aspiring Black filmmakers, directors, and activists.

~Katrina Overby


For information on the lives and careers of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, visit their official website


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