This series featured cult favorite Space is the Place (1974) and a brand new documentary on the role of Jamaican bauxite in the American space race.

This past February and March the BFC/A and the IU Cinema’s Creative Collaborations program, with the support of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, showcased Black Sun/White Moon: Exploring Black Cinematic Imaginations of Space. 

A reflection on the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 “giant leap for mankind,” the series grappled with the ambitions and costs of the space race and celebrated black cinematic explorations of outer space.


Space is the Place (1974)

Following last year’s box office success of Black Panther (2018), popular interest in Afrofuturist imagery and mythology surged among a new generation of audiences. Originally, Space is the Place was intended to be a short performance documentary featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra. But Sun Ra himself saw the collaboration with producer/director John Coney as an opportunity to introduce a radical new genre that would combine avant-garde jazz, science-fiction, and mythological imagery and imagined a liberating and celestial black experience.

The music is different here, the vibrations are different, not like Planet Earth

Planet Earth sound of guns, anger, frustration
There is no one to talk to on planet earth to understand

Sun Ra

 Sun Ra travels back/forward in time to prepare the groundwork for this new world. The year is 1943 and Ra must confront a man known as the Overseer by challenging him to a card game for the souls of the black people of Oakland and planet Earth.

Back/forward to the present time, the 1970s, Sun Ra then begins his mission to spread the word of the new settlement and arranges to promote his message of establishing the new colony through musical performances and public airwaves. Along the way, Ra faces setbacks from white men in suits who kidnap him and try and steal his secrets for “converting his harmonic progressions into energy.”

“We just want to speak with realities. No myths…well…I’m the myth talking to you.” Sun Ra proclaims at the end of the film, as he and his people blast off into space.

Much of the story and thought behind Space is the Place was inspired by a college course Sun Ra taught at Berkeley in the early 1970s. As an artist in residence, Ra taught the course under the title “The Black Man in the Cosmos.” (You can find the reading list for the course here!) Many have remarked on how Sun Ra’s teaching style resembles his improvisational musical style, both of which characterize the feel and timbre of Space is the Place. 

Afronauts Still
Afronauts (2014) is now available via

Afronauts (2014)

In this short film, Zambian adventurers decide to try and beat the United States to the moon. But this is no fantasy. African would-be astronauts had planned and trained for a mission that was to be supported by the UNESCO foundation. In addition to the lunar mission, grade school science teacher, Edward Makuka Nkolosos established the Zambia National Academy of Science and intended to explore Mars with a young woman, a one-eyed cat, and a missionary. Writer-Director Nuotama Bodomo’s short film reimagines the ambition and sincerity of those involved with the project, providing a visual perspective of a lunar landing for and by Africans. The story, according to Bodomo, is an opportunity to reflect upon the untold stories of “exiles and outsiders” in the history of scientific advancement and the pursuit of interplanetary knowledge.

Diandra Forrest as Mata in Afronauts, 2014.

With a truly global crew undertaking the mission of the film, Bodomo, (who is herself Ghanian), collaborates with producers and crew from Great Britain, Barcelona, and Sierra Leone, as well as a cast with American and Angolan players. The largely crowd- funded project has been shown at venues like the International Film Festival Rotterdam and at the Whitney Museum of American Art.


Polly One (2018)

Titled in tribute to his paternal grandmother, Bertha Everson, Polly One is artist Kevin Jerome Everson’s meditation on the solar eclipse that took place on August 21, 2017. The event took place less than one day after his grandmother passed away. Using 16mm film, Everson captures images that conjure feelings about the passage of time, the inevitability of powerful celestial movement, and a vision of interplanetary im/permanence. Polly One has been exhibited in theaters and gallery spaces, in some instances using multiple projectors, and it is part of a substantial body of work from Everson that, in addition to film, includes still photography, painting, and sculpture.

Kevin Jerome Everson_filmmaker photo by Sandy Williams III (2)
Kevin Jerome Everson. Photo by Sandy Williams III.

Everson’s work is known for combining documentary visuals with cinematic formalist styles. The visible phenomena and individual subjects in his work are both direct and indirect refractions of African American and African live. Abstractions and sensorial invitations in his work drive a path toward inward contemplation and looking up.

See Everson’s installation of 16mm films and projectors, Rough and Unequal. Created with a camera and telescope, the images document the waxing and waning of the moon. On view in Bloomington now through October 4 at the Grunwald Gallery of Art, Tuesdays to Saturdays 12-4PM.

Two Eiki projectors power Rough and Unequal, 2017

More information about Rough and Unequal here.

On View at Grunwald Gallery until October 4.

Aerial view of bauxite mining trucks. Photo by Michael Schwartz. Courtesy the filmmaker.

Jamaican documentary filmmaker Esther Figueroa screened Fly Me to the Moon at the IU Cinema on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

This most recent work of Dr. Figueroa’s presents an account of the history and effects of bauxite mining in Jamaica that originated out of U.S. and worldwide demands for aluminum in the midst of a post WWII industrial complex. The film juxtaposes the international space race, and the massive quantities of aluminum materials needed to equip rockets for space travel, with the extraction of natural resources and displacement of people and farms across the Jamaican countryside. In her recent Sunday editorial in the Gleaner, Jamaica’s national newspaper Dr. Figueroa wrote:

Strip mining is never good for the environment and it is never sustainable development. In a time of climate crisis with record high temperatures, unpredictable weather with long droughts and catastrophic storms, it is stupidly suicidal to be cutting down our trees and polluting and depleting our soil and water. All of Cockpit Country must be protected.

Esther Figueroa July 28, 2019, The Gleaner (Jamaica, West Indies)

Figueroa’s documentary style is both gravely serious and subversively whimsical in its presentation of commercial exploitation and the recurring aftermaths of colonial oppression, which collectively have led to many of the environmental, economic, and social problems facing Jamaica and the planet as a whole. Those problems are multivalent and traceable to other extractive industries like tourism, local fishing industries, and corrupt public officials—topics that are expertly addressed in three short films of Figueroa’s, Jamaica For Sale, Massa God Fish Can Doneand Cockpit Country is Our Home, which screened at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive. Dr. Figueroa was present for both screenings, receiving praise and enthusiastically seeking feedback on how to continue developing her work for a growing audience of engaged scholars, artists, and activists. 

Filmmaker Esther Figueroa and Director of the Black Film Center/Archive Terri Francis have a Q&A session after the Fly Me To The Moon screening at the IU Cinema on Sunday, March 24, 2019.
Chaz Mottinger. Courtesy IU Communications.

The Black Sun/White Moon series concluded with a two-day symposium featuring Everson’s work, Rough and Unequal. Conversations in the series evoked the specificities of form and place–specific places, Mansfield, OH, Brown’s Town, Jamaica and also looking to outer space a location that inspires optimism, creativity and making art.

BFC/A Events This Past Semester

Black Film Center/Archive, 1320 E. 10th Street Wells 044, Bloomington, IN, 47405 ||

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