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Celebrating the Lives of Greenlee and Jeffries

Two influential African American men in the film industry passed away recently, leaving their mark on the film industry and inspiring all who have had the opportunity to witness their work. Although popular from different decades — Sam Greenlee was famous in the 1970s and Herbert Jeffries in the 1930s and 1940s —  Greenlee and Herbert were able to leave their mark on Black cinema.

Sam Elder Greenlee, Jr.

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Best known for the controversial 1973 film, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, poet, film-maker, playwright, author, and social activist Sam Elder Greenlee, Jr. passed away in Chicago on May 19th at the age of 83. The film, about a militant Black ex-C.I.A agent, Dan Freeman, who leads a Black power movement, was based on his novel of the same name that was released in 1969. Greenlee co-wrote the screenplay with director, actor, and producer Ivan Dixon. An article in the New York Times stated:

 The film, with the same title as the novel, achieved cult status as one of the few to portray the black power movement of the 1960s and ’70s from a militant’s point of view. Mr. Greenlee helped write the script, which, like the novel, drew on his experiences working abroad as a State Department employee.

Christine Acham and Clifford Ward’s independent 2011 documentary about the making of the critical film, titled Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, examined why United Artists pulled the film shortly after being released at theaters across the country. The documentary highlights how the film was one of the most important underground Black productions of the Blaxploitation era, with its oppositional narrative and representation of Blacks who are ready to fight for their freedom and their beliefs.

The film has been screened at Indiana University and Greenlee has visited the IU campus and the Black Film Center/Archive on different occasions as well. The film was screened in March 2010 as a part of a two-day spring symposium, hosted by the BFC/A, that was devoted to the study of “Cinematic Representations of Racial Conflict in Real Time.” In a press release about the symposium from March 18, 2010, BFC/A Director Michael Martin stated, “‘The Spook Who Sat by the Door’ addresses the plight and potential revolutionary role of the black underclass in urban America.”

Greenlee visited on March 22, 2011 to screen his film The Spook Who Sat by the Door at  IU and stopped in for an interview with Michael Martin and David Wall. Greenlee spoke about how his experiences as a former employee of the United States Information Agency and growing up in the ghetto of Chicago influenced who the primary target audience of his novel and film would be. Speaking about Greenlee’s visit and the film’s controversial release, an excerpt from the May 2011 Black Film Center/Archive publication “The (W)rap Sheet” stated:

Though many critics peg Greenlee’s film to be about a war against whites, Greenlee describes the film as a war of liberation of the poor of America, which goes beyond the issues of race. While the class-war film was consistently pulled from theatres across the United States because of the feared (a) revolutionary protest, Greenlee, along with a large audience, was able to view the film at IU Cinema.

Greenlee will be remembered for his ability and courage to highlight racial issues in his work that are familiar to Black Americans — such as the “Token Negro,” racial oppression, and W.E.B. Du Bois’ notion of “double-consciousness” — and span across all generations and time periods.

 

Herbert “Herb” Jeffries

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Known as Hollywood’s “only Black singing cowboy,” Hebert “Herb” Jeffries passed away due to heart failure at the age of 100 in Los Angeles at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, reported OurWeekly, a local online Los Angeles newspaper. Born in Detroit on September 24, 1911, Jeffries, often referred to as the “The Bronze Buckaroo,” was a famous jazz singer and actor who performed with Duke Ellington and was featured in a series of all-Black Westerns for Black audiences from 1937 to 1939: “Harlem on the Prairie,” “Two-Gun Man From Harlem,” “The Bronze Buckaroo,” and “Harlem Rides the Range.” In 1997, Jeffries shared with American Visions, a publication on African-American culture, that he wanted to make the Black cowboy movies after seeing a young Black boy cry after his friends wouldn’t allow him to play cowboy, when in reality one out of every four cowboys was Black. However, there were barriers in the film industry at that time based on race. Speaking about some of the racial barriers in the film industry and the tendency for white singers to cover songs first scored by Blacks, an NPR article stated:

With a mellow voice and handsome face, Jeffries became familiar to jazz fans, but segregation in the film industry limited his movie career. He scored a big hit with Ellington as the vocalist on “Flamingo,” recorded in 1940 and later covered by a white singer, the popular vocalist Tony Martin.

An article on the website Mixed Races Studies, on the history of Jeffries’ career, noted how his fair skin tone (as his parents were of mixed races) could “pass” for several different ethnicities and/or nationalities as he was often mistaken for a Spaniard, an Italian, a Mexican, a Portuguese, an Argentine, and occasionally a Jew. The article continued stating, “He has scrupulously elected to pass for nothing but what he is—a light-skinned Negro.” Further in the article, they share Jeffries’ reasons and response for not attempting to pass for other races, after a movie producer asked why he wouldn’t want to pass if he had the ability to be anything:

“I have been. I’m a chameleon. But I decided some time ago that the Negro people need all the good, intelligent, unbelligerent representatives they can get in this world, and I’m trying to be one. If I thought the Jewish people needed it more, I’d be a Jew.’ That’s what I told him, and that’s how I feel.”

Although Jeffries had to face racial limits during his career, for instance performing in the South with Earl Hines for segregated audiences in the 1930s, he still managed to find a place in Hollywood. Recently, he was honored by having a star dedicated to him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004. Following that honor in 2006, “The Bronze Buckaroo” was rereleased on a revived DVD titled “Treasures of Black Cinema” and was hosted by Richard Roundtree along with other “race films” produced for Black audiences in the 1930s and 1940s.

Both Jeffries and Greenlee will be remembered as their work continues to circulate and spark discussions in later generations.

~Katrina Overby

Resources:

http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/13812.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/31/books/sam-greenlee-author-producer-and-ex-government-agent-dies-at-83.html

http://ourweekly.com/news/2014/may/29/herbert-jeffries-hollywoods-only-black-singing-cow/#.U43oVShENpQ

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=316124797

http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?tag=herbert-i-jeffries

 


Job Posting: Archivist, IU Black Film Center/Archive

11247 – Archivist, Communication and Culture (Black Film Center/Archive), Indiana University – Bloomington

The Indiana University Black Film Center/Archive (BFCA) in Bloomington, IN, seeks qualified candidates for the position of Archivist.

Reporting to the Archivist and Head of Public and Technology Services, the Archivist will process and provide intellectual access to the archival and manuscript collections of the Black Film Center/Archive. The principal responsibilities of the Archivist will be to arrange and describe archival and manuscript collections in all formats; prepare and encode finding aids and other descriptive access tools; provide research and reference assistance; participate in outreach activities; prepare materials for preservation and digitization; and participate in the training and supervision of student employees.

ABOUT THE BFCA: The Black Film Center/Archive was established at Indiana University Bloomington 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 BFCA’s mission today encompasses within its scope films of Africa and the Diaspora. The BFCA’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 curate and exhibit Black film, ephemera, and memorabilia; to encourage and promote creative film activity by independent Black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of Black film traditions.

REQUIRED: MLS from an ALA-accredited institution with coursework in Archives or MA in Archive Studies. Two years of relevant work experience in a library, archives, or manuscript repository.

Applications accepted until June 26, 2014, or until position is filled. Resume and cover letter required. For a full position description or to apply, visit http://jobs.iu.edu and search for job number 11247.


Celebrating and Remembering the Life of Dr. Maya Angelou

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4th, 1928, world renowned and legendary author, poet, actress, professor, singer, dancer, playwright, director, and activist Dr. Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86 on the morning of Wednesday, May 28th in her home in North Carolina, according to a CNN report.

Considered a “Renaissance woman,” “trailblazer,” and cultural “pioneer,” Angelou is remembered most for her books and poetry. Some of these works include her most famous poems “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” (in her 1978 third volume of poetry titled And Still I Rise) and her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou is also remembered for her participation in the civil rights movement and fight for equality as she worked with many civil rights heroes including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X.

Dr. Maya Angelou

Although most known for her written works, Angelou has contributed greatly to theatre and film through both performance and directing. Growing up, Angelou studied dance and drama at the young age of 14 in San Francisco. Angelou toured Europe soon after in the opera production “Porgy and Bess” as a single mother at the age of 17.

Angelou had a passion for theatre and film, but access to the industry wasn’t that easy. In an excerpt from an interview with former Black Film Center/Archive Director and Professor Emeritus of African American and African Diaspora Studies Dr. Audrey T. McCluskey, Dr. Maya Angelou discussed some of her experiences and issues she encountered in the film industry:

McCluskey: You’ve been a pioneer, especially for black women – directing, acting, screenwriting, and even scoring the music. You did such a wonderful job for Down in the Delta. It makes me wonder why you haven’t directed more films.

Angelou: Really the door wasn’t open. I did try to open it in 1972 by doing Georgia, Georgia but I wasn’t allowed to direct it. I wrote it and I wrote the music. But I wasn’t allowed to direct it. A Swedish man who had never even shaken hands with a black person directed it. He had no idea of the nuances that I wanted, that I had written…. It was just not the film I meant at all.

McCluskey: Did that dishearten you to some extent?

Angelou: Well that did and I seemed to get no other offers.  I did go out to 20th Century Fox and I was their first Black female writer/producer.  But I didn’t get a chance to direct Sister, Sister.  I wanted so much to direct it, starring Diahann Carroll, Rosalind Cash, and Irene Cara.

Later in the interview, discussing her directing work on Down in the Delta, Angelou shared her cinematic sensibility:

McCluskey: You have also said that for you the camera was your pen.  How do you go about transferring what I think are essentially your literary sensibilities to film, which is more of an ensemble?

Angelou: Since I can’t do that poetic prose which sets a scene on my yellow pad and in my books, I have to use the camera to help to view it and to know that there is fresh air here and the smell of grass.  The sun has reached this level in the sky.  The things I can do with my pen, I have to make the camera do it.  Phoebe the painter, one of my favorite painters, calls it negative space.  So that she will paint a line or half a face and that leaves the viewer to add in to see where the rest of that face would go.

McCluskey: Did this come about by you actually saying certain things to the cinematographer?

Angelou: Oh yes, absolutely.  We work hand and glove.  I’d say this scene, it takes place in the late afternoon and I want it to look hot.  Even if I see no one with his jacket off or shirt rolled up, I want the viewer to know it is hot in that house.  So I may have to go out on the porch and catch the sun and the shape of the sunlight over the banister to go into the house and through the screen door.  You see?

Despite some of the barriers, Angelou’s influence on and her passion for film and theatre and can be remembered and witnessed in some of the following plays and films:

  • Angelou wrote the screenplay and directed the score for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia. Angelou became the first African American woman to have her script filmed. The film was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was entered into the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival in 1973.
  • In 1973, Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award in for her performance in Jerome Kilty’s Broadway play “Look Away.”
  • Directed by Fielder Cook, Angelou’s 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was transformed into a made-for-television film in 1979 on CBS.
  • In the 1993 film Poetic Justice, featuring music stars Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, Angelou’s words and poems, such as “Phenomenal Woman,” were recited throughout the film by Jackson’s character Justice. Angelou also contributed by making a cameo appearance in the film.
  • Angelou directed the 1998 film Down in the Delta, starring Alfre Woodard, Wesley Snipes, Loretta Devine, Esther Rolle and Al Freeman, Jr. This would be the only film Angelou directed that was “mainstream.”

In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded Angelou with the highest civilian honor when he presented her with the Medal of Freedom. Prior to that in 2000, former president Bill Clinton awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Arts, and she was requested by Clinton to write a poem for his presidential inauguration in 1993.

Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou for sharing your gifts, talent, and wisdom with the world.

-Katrina Overby

Resources:

http://mayaangelou.com/bio/

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/28/us/maya-angelou-obit/

http://www.indiana.edu/~bfca/


Damn the Man, Save the Rex! – Akosua Adoma Owusu Reinvigorates Ghanaian Cinema Culture

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Photo: Design 233/Obibini Pictures

Akosua Adoma Owusu is an award-winning filmmaker whose films have shown all over the world.  Earlier this year her film Kwaku Ananse won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Short Film.  She recently changed her home base from suburban DC to Accra, and in her latest project, she’s aiming to reinvigorate film-going culture in Ghana’s capital city.

Last month Owusu launched “Damn the Man, Save the Rex!” — a Kickstarter campaign to revive one of Ghana’s historic cinemas.  The campaign ends later this week on November 15, and she’s raised over two-thirds of her $8000 goal.  The BFC/A’s Nzingha Kendall interviewed her about the impetus for the project, the history of the Rex and her vision for the space.

BFC/A: One of the goals of your “Damn the Man, Save the Rex” project is to add to the vitality of the arts scene in Accra by providing a multifaceted space to showcase art and music in addition to film.  Can you tell us why you decided to launch this venture at the Rex in particular?

Akosua Adoma Owusu: Absolutely! Well, my motivation for launching the Save the Rex campaign came from how I could see this lack of support for African filmmakers, and even more, a lack of spaces for African filmmakers to exhibit and showcase their work.  Moving back to Ghana after the AMAAs [African Movie Academy Awards], I struggled to secure a venue that would premiere a short film because the film didn’t even fit the mold of any film industry structure – abroad or in Ghana.

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Photo: Design 233/Obibini Pictures

Also, Ghana has lots of historic cultural institutions that have been left abandoned or have been sold for redevelopment and yet it is not really a cinema-going culture.  These spaces were originally used by local Ghanaian cultural producers and are now left unattended so they are no longer considered fascinating to people in the context of contemporary Ghanaian community.  I want to revive the Rex to give the local Ghanaian creative community and my peers opportunities to be cultural producers in a culture where memory and cultural heritage is often discarded in order to compete in a globalized world.

BFC/A: A follow up question: What role did the Rex play in Ghanaian cinema-going culture?  And why are other historic cinemas in Ghana endangered today?

Owusu: To say it simply, the Rex, among other cinema houses, was built to promote and exhibit Hollywood and foreign movies for local Ghanaian audiences.  With the fast growing and successful video film industry, there was no longer a need for a cinema-going culture. Films could go straight to DVD and directly profit the filmmakers themselves, which is very similar to the Nigerian film industry.  Many private investors in these cinema houses were more concerned about making profit from African ticket sales or promoting foreign cultures, that the cinema houses were no longer profitable.  Then other models developed, like showing locally produced films in the cinema houses.  This model was not profitable either since every household had access to a television, and people prefer to watch films at home, or on a computer or even a phone. How can these cinema houses make money, especially when theaters are also dying abroad?

I think it is time we turn the cinema house into a place where local artists can show their work for the sake of having their work seen by a local audience, which in turn will stimulate cultural production and cultural productivity.  I believe if local Africans can have opportunities to be seen by the local community, they can eventually get noticed by an international one that often rejects their voice.  In Ghana, we live in a culture where the local community would rather see more movies made from our own voice from our own perspective.  That said, I feel it is time we consider investing more in spaces where Africans can have freedom to be cultural producers and stimulate cultural production of our own culture in our own cultural spaces.

BFC/A: On your Kickstarter trailer, you mention that you’ve encountered many situations where people discuss ideal and exciting projects, but that in the end these projects rarely make it past the theoretical stage.  How is it that you’re able to take your ideas and make them reality?

Owusu: Well, I think my process of taking ideas and turning them into reality is similar to my process of making films – they just come together organically.  I really don’t have the time and energy to wait for funding to pull my films together.   I just have to do it.  I cannot wait for funding to get my films made.  I usually make my films with very little and with what already exists out there.  Kwaku Ananse, to date, has been my most expensive film and it was a co-production of 3 countries that came together to make my vision become a reality.  So, I feel that if it takes 3 countries to make my short film, and I am of 2 cultures, it is my duty as an African filmmaker of the diaspora who makes work in Africa, with Africans and foreigners, to collaborate and be of service to my creative community.

BFC/A: Who are some of the Ghanaian artists you plan to showcase at the Rex?  Or if perhaps you don’t want to let the cat out of the bag quite yet, who are some young Ghanaian artists whose work we should keep an out out for?

Owusu: Oh Yes!  Absolutely!  Many of the artists I plan on showcasing at the Rex are my great friends and this is no secret so I’d love to share who I am collaborating with and their involvement in the Save the Rex project.  One artist is my sistren, Nana Offoryiatta-Ayim, a cultural historian, curator and filmmaker.  I’m a filmmaker and curating cultural programs isn’t my forte.  However, I love how Nana has such a great great eye when it comes to spotting great local talent.

There are sculptors Nana Anoff and Mahama Ibrahim.  There is filmmaker Anita Afonu, who made a documentary, Perished Diamonds, about our dying cinema houses,  there is performance artist Serge who comes to mind….There is Wanlov the Kubolor and M3NSA, of the FOKN BOIS,  there is Kyekyeku who is the protege of legendary guitarist Koo Nimo, there is Jahwai who blends hiphop and reggae…there is Nana Asaase…and Mutombo the Poet…and a young singer, Lady Jay…gosh, I could go on forever!  All of these guys are so incredibly talented. They are the new wave of Ghanaian creatives and I can see them making history and being legends in our future. And, an organization like Accra Dot Alt brings all of these artists, including myself together for cultural events. These guys helped me find a place in Ghana when I didn’t know where I could fit in the current Ghanaian film industry and I’m looking forward to growing with them.  That’s my utopian vision of Africa…it’s right here in Ghana at the Rex Cinema, a place where a gray area of artists can unite and really have the freedom to create.

Click here to contribute and find out more about Owusu’s Kickstarter campaign.

For other information about the Rex and Ghanaian cinema culture:

Jennifer Blaylock (UC Berkeley doctoral student) on the Rex

Blaylock’s slideshow of cinemas in Accra in the late 1960s

JOT Ageyman’s blog post on the Ghanaian film industry

Brigit Meyer’s “Popular Ghanaian Cinema and African Heritage” (subscription required)


Black Sexual Economies: Conference on Transforming Black Sexualities Research

On September 27 & 28, 2013, I had the pleasure of attending, for the first time, the Black Sexual Economies conference that was held at Washington University Law in St. Louis.  Although Black Studies and its various permutations – African American Studies, Africana Studies, African Diaspora Studies – have been institutionalized for at least 40 years, research in Black Sexuality has often been marginalized within the academy. This conference brought together some of the most influential scholars in the broad, heterogeneous area of Black Sexuality Studies: Cathy Cohen, Tricia Rose, E. Patrick Johnson, Rinaldo Walcott, and Indiana University’s very own Marlon Bailey and LaMonda Horton-Stallings, to name just a few. Key organizers, presenters and other participants represented a wide variety of disciplines and research interests, as well as being representative of academic institutions across the United States.

IU's LaMonda Horton-Stallings with Cathy Cohen and Matt Richardson at Black Sexual Economies: Conference on Transforming Black Sexualities Research, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Marsha Horsley)

IU’s LaMonda Horton-Stallings with Cathy Cohen and Matt Richardson at Black Sexual Economies: Conference on Transforming Black Sexualities Research, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Marsha Horsley)

This was more than a conference, this was an experience. The emphasis was on mentorship, an often neglected and underestimated aspect of the academic environment, especially for scholars whose research is often viewed as risky, dangerous and taboo. The impetus of this conference was to provide a supportive intellectual environment for a new generation of scholars working in the overlapping areas of black/queer/trans/gender/diaspora/sexualities, opening up the now-institutionalized area of Gender and Sexuality studies, speaking to their blind spots, and creating much needed visibility around Black sexualities. While emphasizing the need to mentor younger scholars in this area, the key organizers, Mireilee Miller-Young and Adrienne Davis, were very aware of and acknowledged those scholars of an older generation, who had paved the way for us to do the kinds of research that we do. I felt as if I was part of a community, a community of scholars whom I could identify with and relate to. Community building can itself be a double-edged sword, especially when the idea of community can be exclusionary. However, the tone and atmosphere of this conference was one that celebrated and encouraged diversity – of people, for disciplines, of intellectual interests, of positions – emphasizing the potentialities of what a more progressive Black/Gender/Sexualities/Queer Studies project can look like. An important aspect of the conference was the validation of people’s research and what was most valuable was the ways in which more established scholars interacted with younger scholars, providing feedback and advice that was certainly aimed at enabling people to reach their fullest potential. Panel presentations, plenary sessions and workshops (pedagogy and methodologies) made this a holistic experience, grounding the conference in the very everyday experiences of learning how to navigate the academic institution.

Black cinema and visual culture definitely featured prominently amongst presenters. I was fortunate to present on a panel with two other scholars – Jennifer Nash and Ariane Cruz – working in the genre of pornography, an often marginalized and neglected area of research in Cinema/Film Studies. My paper was titled “Theatres of Transgression and Confession: Subverting Masculinities in Gay, Interracial, Bareback Pornography,” in which I explore representations of bareback sex between Black and White men, and argue that the association between barebacking and the death drive is insufficient to understand the complexities of this subculture. This was the natural association because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I suggest that barebacking needs to be theorized through the framework of futurity, one where the strict delineation between races and masculinities becomes increasingly blurred. While re-working this paper I am thinking about the relationship between sexual liberation and the potentialities for a new world order. The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive and has definitely allowed me to push my argument to the next level, as I prepare this paper for publication.

Jordache Ellapen is a Ph.D. student in the Department of American Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington.  He works as a publications assistant with director Michael Martin at the Black Film Center/Archive.

 


National Coming Out Day and Exploding Lineage! Film Screening

On October 11, 2013, 6:30pm, at IU Cinema there will be a free screening of Exploding Lineage! Queer of Color Histories in Experimental Media, featuring innovative work by a diverse group of 14 queer media artists of color..

March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. “Join in the march, rally, and other related events” Pamphlet. October 11, 1987. HRC Records.

March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. “Join in the march, rally, and other related events” Pamphlet. October 11, 1987. HRC Records.

Twenty-five years have passed since 300,000 to 500,000 people marched on Washington D.C. for gay rights; twenty-five years later, the fight for equality continues in the United States.

The events of October 11, 1987, represented the LGBTQ community’s frustration with the government’s response to the AIDS crisis and continued discrimination against gays.

At the time, the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights received little press coverage and it wasn’t until 1993, when another major March was launched, that the media began to pay attention to the issue of LGBTQ rights.

Still, for the gay community, the 1987 march signified a poignant moment of solidarity and unity.

In conjunction with the 1st anniversary of the 1987 march, National Coming Out Day (NCOD) was founded to celebrate individuals undertaking a significant right of passage – taking a stand to publicly identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer.

Keith Haring. National Coming Out Day sticker, n.d. HRC Records.

Keith Haring. National Coming Out Day sticker, n.d. HRC Records.

October 11, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and the 25th celebration of National Coming Out Day. LGBTQ people and allies will come together to celebrate diversity, acceptance, and equality this Friday.  The theme this year is “Coming Out Still Matters – When people know someone who is LGBT, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.”

With this sentiment in mind, the the Black Film Center/Archive of Indiana University, several other IU departments, and Bloomington PRIDE are co-sponsoring a special free film screening at the Indiana University Cinema. The program of contemporary short films comes at a time when Indiana’s LGBTQ community fights HJR6, the proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to narrowly define marriage in the state as discriminatory and exclusive.

Hokum/Dr. K. Ryan Ziegler

Dr. K. Ryan Ziegler’s HOKUM draws on ideas of sex, gender, and Black masculinity and a soundtrack by Queer Harlem artists such as Gladys Bentley and Ma Rainey, to ask of its audience: what does it mean to take pleasure when viewing the queer Black female body?

Featuring innovative work by a diverse group of media artists, Exploding Lineage! Queer of Color Histories in Experimental Media, explores the complexities of identity construction in African, Asian, and Latin queer diasporas. The program, which premiered in 2012 at the 25th MIX NYC festival, includes KB Boyce’s Bulldagger Women and Sissy Men, a tribute to queer artists of the Harlem Renaissance, and Celeste Chan’s Bloodlines, a lyrical recognition of Chinese immigrants detained on Angel Island due to the Chinese Exclusion Act.  Among the twelve other  filmmakers is Dr. K. Ryan Ziegler, who was recently honored as an influential African American leader by The Root for giving voice to black transgender people through art and scholarship; and 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow Indira Allegra, a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work explores forms of queer intimacy, text, trauma and racial identity through performance, video works and handwoven textiles.

Queer Origins/Celeste Chan

Artist, filmmaker, and curator Celeste Chan’s QUEER ORIGINS is an experimental animation laced with nostalgia.

The free screening of Exploding Lineage! will take place October 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm at the IU Cinema as part of its ongoing Underground Film series. Immediately following will be an open discussion with the program’s curators, KB Boyce and Celeste Chan. Boyce and Chan founded Queer Rebels in 2008 to showcase queer artists of color, connect generations, and honor our histories with art for the future.

Earlier on Friday, the Indiana University Bloomington’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Services office will host KB and Celeste for an informal Brown Bag Lunch Talk with students.  This event begins at 12:15 pm. at the GLBTSSS office, 705 E. 7th Street.  For more information about the Brown Bag talk, contact GLBTSSS at (812) 855-4252 / glbtserv@indiana.edu. 

The Exploding Lineage! event is presented by the Black Film Center/Archive and IU Cinema; and co-sponsored by Bloomington PRIDE, the East Asian Studies Center, the Center for the Study of Global Change, the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Department of American Studies, Department of Communication and Culture, Department of Gender Studies, Film and Media Studies program, and GLBT Student Support Services.

~Ardea Smith


50 Years: The March on Washington 1963-2013

Tonight, in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, U.S. State Department is preparing to live stream The March, a 1964 documentary by James Blue about the 1963 civil rights March on Washington. Preceding the film will be a short introduction by John Robinson, Director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of State and following the film individuals are welcome to stay for a virtual discussion with Washington, DC-based civil rights experts who will answer participants questions and comments submitted online throughout the program. Please follow the link to participate in this global viewing party: https://conx.state.gov/event/global-viewing-party-the-march/

Official Program for the March on Washington, 08/28/1963, Source: Collection JFK-164: Post-Administration Records Collection, 1964 - 2011, National Archives

Planned March Route, Official Program for the March on Washington, 08/28/1963, Source: Post-Administration Records Collection, 1964 – 2011, National Archives

The March on Washington and James Blue’s documentary – The March

From early  June of 1963, with the formation of the coalition Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, to August 27, 1963 uncertainties plagued the minds of civil rights leaders across America. The “Big Six” had come together in June, determined to mobilize the people for a March on Washington. They had spent months clarifying the goals of the March, finding volunteers, organizing transportation, and publicizing the event. The “Big Six” faced down the threats of the Klu Klux Klan, the potential for police brutality, the lack of political support in Washington D.C., and the skepticism of the President of the United States John F. Kennedy.

Yet the biggest question that the “Big Six” could not answer was, “Will they come?”

On the morning of August 28th, 1963 the answer was apparent. While organizers had planned for anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 participants, the buses, trains, and endless streams of cars entering D.C. betrayed a much larger turnout. “Almost a continuous line of buses on the expressway,” police said. By 8:00 a.m., 100 buses an hour were streaming through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. [March, p. 184-186]

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Two long lines of some of the buses used to transport marchers to Washington.] Source:  Record Group 306: Records of the U.S. Information Agency, 1900 - 2003, National Archives

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Two long lines of some of the buses used to transport marchers to Washington.] Source: Records of the U.S. Information Agency, 1900 – 2003, National Archives

In total, over 250,000 people rallied together under the ringing voices of celebrities, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King as he exhorted “let freedom ring.”

March on Washington, 1963, Source: Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, Library of Congress

March on Washington, 1963, Source: Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, Library of Congress

Yet, despite the overwhelming success of the March on Washington and the outpouring of support for civil and human rights, the political wheels moved more slowly. At the end of the rally, President Kennedy invited the march leaders to the White House to discuss the pending civil rights bills, where some leaders pushed for strengthening portions of the bill. President Kennedy was cordial and non-committal in his support. As the weeks passed the civil rights legislation seemed to be stalling and the momentum and optimism inspired by the March began to fade.

Civil rights leaders meet with President John F. Kennedy in the oval office of the White House after the March on Washington, D.C. Source: Miscellaneous Items in High Demand Collection, Library of Congress

Civil rights leaders meet with President John F. Kennedy in the oval office of the White House after the March on Washington, D.C. Source: Miscellaneous Items in High Demand Collection, Library of Congress

It would take another 2 years before both the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) were passed.

During the political stalemate in the United States – with an uncertain ambivalence in the air over the future of civil rights – a much different message was being promoted to foreign countries. As part of the United States Information Agency (USIA), films were produced as part of a desire to attract support and cooperation for American policies in foreign countries, part of a soft power movement relying on covert propaganda. As part of the USIA’s film series, the documentary The March, chronicling the March on Washington, was produced by James Blue and released overseas in 1964.

James Blue, documentary filmmaker

James Blue, documentary filmmaker, Source: Glasstire

Despite the US government’s reluctance to lend its support in the lead up to the March and the political tepidity following August 28, 1963, James Blue’s 1964 documentary The March, presents a much more unified front in support of the civil rights movements. Carl T. Rowan, the Director of the United States Information Agency states in his introduction to the film, “Ladies and Gentleman…I have the privilege to present to you a dramatic document of man’s continuing search for dignity. It is a film about the great civil rights march at Washington. A moving exercise of one of the most cherished rights in the free society, the right of peaceful protest. I believe that this demonstration of both whites and negroes supported by the federal government and by both President Johnson and the late President Kennedy, is a profound example of the procedures unfettered men use to broaden the horizons of freedom and deepening the meaning of personal liberty.”

The film captures the buses rolling into Washington, sandwiches being made for the thousands of participants, performances along the Reflecting Pool, blacks and whites using the same water fountain, and other images meant to capture the cohesive racial equality that occurred in Washington on August 28, 1963.

Interestingly, The March was never seen by the American public. Due to concerns about the repercussions or effects of the U.S. Government using propaganda on its own people, the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act mandated that no USIA film could be shown within the U.S without a special act from Congress.

It was only with a Congressional Act in 1990 that films such as James Blue’s The March were authorized to be screened domestically.

Now, with the help of the National Archives, the American public is not only able to witness imagery from one of the largest political rallies for civil right in the history of the United States but also the ways in which the United States government portrayed The March on Washington abroad for its own purposes.

If you are interested in learning more about the making of The March, please visit the following link (http://blogs.archives.gov/mediamatters/2013/08/20/making-the-march/) to a blog post by Criss Kovac, supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab at the National Archives. As part of a larger project to digitally restore The March, Criss Kovac provides a detailed and thought-provoking post on James Blue’s film-making process and the ensuing controversy within the USIA over the final film, its message, content, and release.

To learn more about the recent digital restoration of The March conducted by the National Archives, one can also follow the link (http://blogs.archives.gov/mediamatters/2013/08/22/preservationrestorationthemarch/) to learn more about the process, from the arrival of the damaged reels to the laboratory to the compilation of the repaired frames.

For those in Washington D.C., the first screening of the National Archives digital restoration of James Blue’s The March will be held at noon, August 26th, in the McGowan Theater at the National Archives Building.  Additional screenings will be held at noon on August 27th and 28th as well. For those unable to attend in person the film will also be available on the National Archive’s YouTube channel beginning August 26th.

~Ardea Smith


Documentary Filmmaker, William Miles, Dies at 82

William Miles, also known as Bill, lived a life devoted to exploring and documenting the history, culture, and achievements of African Americans. On May 12, at the age of 82, Miles died in Queens, reported the New York Times. Although stricken with a number of health problems, the cause of his death is unknown. Born on April 18th 1931 and raised in Harlem on West 126th street, Miles lived behind and worked at the famous Apollo Theatre.  Among his many awards was his induction into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1986. He leaves behind his wife of 61 years, Gloria Miles, daughters Brenda Moore and Deborah Jones, and three grandchildren.

William Miles (photo: Don Purdue)

William Miles (photo: Don Purdue)

The New York Times recently reported:

“Mr. Miles was part historical sleuth, part preservationist, part bard. His films, which combined archival footage, still photographs and fresh interviews, were triumphs of curiosity and persistence in unearthing lost material about forgotten subjects.”

Many of Miles’s films concentrated on documenting African Americans’ contributions to the military. Miles’s film Men of Bronze (1977), also known as the Harlem Hellfighters and the Black Rattlers, has been noted as one of his most important films. The film had its debut at the New York Film Festival and later aired on national public television. Men of Bronze, which is a combination of photos, footage, memoirs, and anecdotes, captures the emotional journey of the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment and the story of how they fought under the French flag due to segregationist policies during the First World War. Authors Phyllis R. Klotman and Janet K. Cutler stated in their book Struggles For Representation: African American Documentary Film and Video, “Men of Bronze (1997) became a model for documentaries that put African Americans back into military history.”

The Black Film Center/Archive holds copies of several of Miles’s films, including 16mm prints of his series, I Remember Harlem.  Other Miles material at BFC/A includes an interview conducted by BFC/A founder Phyllis Klotman and a collection of Miles’s research materials, donated in August 1997, relating to the 1992 documentary film Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II.  Co-produced and directed by Nina Rosenblum, this ninety-minute film documented the stories of black army units fighting against racism in the military and at home. The film was nominated in the 1993 Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature.  A finding aid is available online here.

In 2006, William Miles placed a major collection of his work with the Washington University Film and Media Archive in St. Louis. 

Miles was a recipient of many awards throughout his career and was a member of several distinguished organizations. Some of his awards and affiliations include: the Black Harlem Award, the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, the International Documentary Association, and the Black National Programming Consortium.

William Miles’s work will continued to be treasured for years to come, as his documentaries provide insight on the history of many aspects of African American life across an array of professions and communities.

~Katrina Overby


Starts Tonight: The Shared Ethnography of Jean Rouch @ the IU Cinema

Influential French documentarian Jean Rouch is the focus of a retrospective at the IU Cinema this month.  The series opens tonight at 6:30 pm with a double header of Les Maîtres Fous and Moi, un Noir.

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Rouch’s 1967 classic Jaguar will screen on Saturday, February 9 at 6:30 pm.  Mammy Water and The Lion Hunters will close the series on Sunday, February 17 at 6:30 pm.

For more on Jean Rouch, check out African film scholar Manthia Diawara’s 1995 documentary, Rouch in Reverse.  Diawara turns the ethnographic camera on Rouch in an act of “reverse anthropology.”   Trailer HERE.

The Shared Ethnography of Jean Rouch coincides with a nationwide tour following Icarus Films’ acquisition of the North American rights for six of Rouch’s films.  The series is co-sponsored by the BFC/A, the Departments of Communication and Culture, Anthropology, History, French and Italian, the African Studies Program and the IU Cinema.


Pullman Porters on Screen, Part 2 (Since 1960)

As the prominence of American railroads began to decline drastically in the post-war era, and the escalating civil-rights movement diversified workplace opportunities for African Americans, the ubiquity of the Pullman Porter also began to fall.  In film, the ‘Pullman-Porter-as-black-archetype-for-white-audiences’ lost currency, and the figure of the Pullman Porter relocated to a very different branch of the film universe: documentaries and narrative features concerned with historical memory.

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California Newsreel led the documentary charge, with Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle (1982) directed by Paul Wagner, and A. Philip Randolph: For Jobs and Freedom (1996) directed by Dante James. Miles of Smiles chronicled the organizing of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, while For Jobs and Freedom, more broadly, focused on the wide ranging career of A. Philip Randolph.   Both documentaries were made for TV, and are currently available from California Newsreel.  [Note: BFC/A will be screening A. Philip Randolph: For Jobs and Freedom on February 6, 2013.  More on that here.] In 2006, a third major documentary, Rising from the Rails (2006), directed by Brad Osborne and based on Larry Tye’s book, was released. Below, a clip from Miles of Smiles:

The first narrative feature on Pullman Porters, 10,000 Black Men Named George, came out in 2002, directed by Robert Townsend and starring Andre Braugher, Charles S. Dutton, and Mario Van Peebles. The film’s title comes from the antebellum practice of calling male slaves by their masters’ name, a racist gesture which carried into the Pullman era (George Pullman founded the Pullman Rail Company), similar to calling someone ‘boy.’  That particular part of the experience is depicted in this scene from the movie (and here’s another interesting clip):

While Townsend’s effort seems to be the only feature film which made it out of production, there were reports of Stanley Robertson, Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, and Bill Cosby working with 20th Century Fox to produce a biopic on A. Philip Randolph and his wife, Lucille, in 2001; it’s unclear whether or not this project is still in the works, though Roberstson (who also produced Men of Honor) has passed away.

While we can appreciate the efforts made to portray Pullman porters and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, it’s hard to not feel like there is an under-representation of their experience in film, given their incredible and untold contributions to American life.  And yet, perhaps because of the influence of these films (and a slew of wonderful researchers and museums), efforts at telling the stories of Pullman porters may be on the increase.  In 2009, Amtrak launched a program to commemorate the contributions of Pullman porters.  And last year, playwright Cheryl L West’s Pullman Porter Blues took the Arena Stage – here’s a writeup from NPR.  Perhaps a sleeping car porter blockbuster is next?

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Cleavant Derricks (L), as Sylvester in Pullman Porter Blues.

~ Jonathan Donald Jenner

*****

Read “Pullman Porters on Screen, Part 1 (pre-1960)” here.


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