(AFTER)FOCUS: Black America 1968, 2018

In this guest post, past BFC/A Programming Assistant Saul Kutnicki reflects on (Re)Focus: Black America 2018, our exhibit, film and discussion program, which took place October 24, 2018 in the IU Libraries Screening Room. Funded by a grant from Indiana Humanities in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the event brought together IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Library, University Archives and the BFC/A.


How looking back helps us look forward…

(RE)FOCUS: Black America 2018 was no typical motion picture exhibition. The evening began with an open-door display of materials provided by University Archives and the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Library. We called it “open-door” because visitors could come and go as they liked rather than sit for a formal lecture or walk on a predetermined path led by a docent. Librarians and archivists representing various IU collections were on hand to engage in conversation–with one another and with the visitors–about the materials. Each individual item showed a facet of the story of race and student life at IU in the late 1960s, but together they painted a fascinating picture of one program in particular: FOCUS: Black America

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Launched in 1968, FOCUS was a screening and lecture series that sought to educate the campus on African-American history and culture, perhaps helping to lay some of the groundwork for the Neal-Marshall’s founding as well as establishing what is now the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. “(RE)” in the 2018 event title points to our return to and reflection on this history, its significance to Indiana University and the Bloomington community at large.

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Items on display included posters, letters, pamphlets, photographs, and newspaper clippings that open a window to Black student life on campus during that pivotal FOCUS era. The richness of this historical record certainly drew attention to Black students’ lived experiences, achievements, and participation in a variety of activities at IU. A glimpse into this past raises questions about the extent to which college campuses or other public institutions have addressed the systemic white supremacy evidenced in many of the materials on display.

How looking forward is linked to the discourse of back then…

After visitors had a chance to view the paper materials, everyone was seated for a screening of a recently digitized 16mm print of Heritage of the Negro (1965) (requires IU login). This film was one of the earliest screenings that took place in the original 1968 FOCUS series. It opens with legendary Black actor, director, writer, and activist Ossie Davis discussing the often complex nature of African-American identity, particularly in the midst of predominantly white cultural institutions, whether schools or the entertainment industry. The term “Negro” itself is placed under scrutiny as part of his examination. In the film, pioneering historian and professor John Henrik Clarke addresses the importance of learning about the deeply interconnected histories and cultures of western Africa and those of Black Americans in the United States. Meanwhile, a range of participants reflect upon the educational experiences they received in the 1950s and 1960s. Heritage is an educational film about education from the perspective of African Americans. It is made available anew thanks to the efforts of IULMIA and IU’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative. There’s even more digitized Indiana-specific material on Black culture to explore. Check out the 1970s radio series The Afro-American in Indiana from the collection of the Archives of African American Music and Culture here (may require IU Login.)

As we digitize and revive past works, bringing them into our current moment, in what ways does that material speak, or not speak, to us? How do we avoid uncritically repeating the problems of the past? African history is surveyed in Heritage in order to foster pride in Africa and weaken white supremacist thinking that has been taught and repeated in European and American educational systems. As a nontheatrical educational film, Heritage generates ideas about educational strategies to confront white supremacy. It raises questions about when and where to start this process. Alternatively, the film’s datedness can be striking, particularly in the way the repeated term “Negro” is imposed upon its efforts to reclaim an African heritage. But the film’s struggle to imagine a liberated black consciousness is dedicated and hopeful.

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How looking to the recent past reveals how much work there is to be done…

Immediately following the Heritage screening, the program fast-forwarded to 1994 with IU alum Jerald Harkness’ documentary, Facing the Façade. Mr. Harkness shot the film at IU, during the heyday of Black independent ’90s film (think Leslie Harris, John Singleton, Matty Rich, Julie Dash), and it consists of frank and diverse testimonies from Black IU students about their experiences at the university and in the town of Bloomington. Facing the Façade was Mr. Harkness’ second documentary after Steppin (1992), which historically contextualizes the step show, a dance style popular among black fraternities and sororities, which Spike Lee had showcased in School Daze (1988). Videocassettes of both Harkness films are included in our Mary Perry Smith Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Archives Collection because the filmmaker submitted them to the organization’s annual Black Filmworks and Independent Film, Video & Screenplay Competition. Mr. Harkness was present at the event by special invitation from the Black Film Center/Archive, thanks to funding from the Indiana Humanities in partnership with the National Endowment of the Humanities. 

Busy running his own film company in Indianapolis, Mr. Harkness hadn’t actually seen Facing the Façade for almost 22 years. Many audience members commented on how important Facing the Façade remains today, both as a document of Black student life at IU in the past and as a forum for further dialogue on the efforts IU has made with regard to the alienation and ambivalence that the students in the film express having felt as part of their college experience due to racism on campus. Click here to learn about Mr. Harkness’ recent project True First Series, which explores the contributions African Americans have made to the nation as a whole. 

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After the screening, audience members asked Mr. Harkness about his process, how he approached the interviews, and how he selected the segments of these interviews that he felt would represent a range of Black students at IU. Mr. Harkness clearly wanted people to see diversity within that experience, while also exposing the weaknesses of a university culture that still served a predominantly white student population. That sentiment was an important takeaway for all in attendance to (RE)FOCUS: Black America, 2018, since it added even more relevance to the arc of history that event was putting on display and emboldened attitudes about how the University may still need to change.    

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This program has been made possible with a grant from the Indiana Humanities in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Which African Films Have Been Nominated for Oscars?

Let’s take a moment to look back. Within the ninety-one year legacy of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which African films has it honored? An Oscar nomination is not the end-all in determining a film’s value; still, the on-going narrative of this award ceremony often reflects trends and changes in film culture, and the Academy does claim to be “the world’s preeminent movie related organization.” Historically, though, its lens hasn’t been wide enough. Here, we list the seven films nominated since 1927 that are both set in African countries AND directed by Africans. We also include a bit of biographical information about the filmmakers.

We then list the nominees for Best Director from this past year’s Africa Movie Academy Awards, a ceremony established in 2005 by Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, “aimed at facilitating the development and relevance of African film.” This list could function as a starting point in exploring contemporary African cinema, for those who are not yet dedicated followers, as well as an example of how diversity can exist within a single awards category. Find the full list of 2018 AMAA nominees here.


African Films Nominated for Oscars

Yesterday (2004): set in South Africa, directed by Darrell Roodt // Foreign Language Film category

Director, producer, and screenwriter Darrell Roodt was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has several dozen film credits including Mr. TNT (1985), Sarafina! (1992), and Lake Placid: Legacy (2018).

Tsotsi (2005): set in South Africa, directed by Gavin Hood // Foreign Language Film WINNER

Gavin Hood was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is an actor, producer, and director. His other credits include A Reasonable Man (1999), X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Eye in the Sky (2015). 

Days of Glory/Indigènes (2006): set in French North Africa, directed by Rachid Bouchareb // Foreign Language Film category

Rachid Bouchareb was born in Paris, France to Algerian parents. He is a director, producer, and writer, known for Cheb (1991), Little Senegal (2000), and Belleville Cop (2018). 

District 9 (2009): set in South Africa, directed by Neill Blomkamp // Film Editing, Best Picture, Visual Effects, and Writing (Adapted Screenplay) categories

Neill Blomkamp was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a director, producer, and writer, known for Elysium (2013) and Chappie (2015), with special effects and animation credits as well. He’s now based in Vancouver, Canada.

Outside the Law/Hors-la-loi (2010): set in Algeria and France, directed by Rachid Bouchareb // Foreign Language Film category

The Square (2013): set in Egypt, directed by Jehane Noujaim // Documentary (Feature) category

Raised in Cairo, Egypt, Jehane Noujaim is a documentary filmmaker known for Control Room (2004) and Startup.com (2001), as well as the hulu comedy series Ramy (2019). She has a TED talk titled “My wish: A global day of film” and is now based in New York, London, and Cairo.

Timbuktu (2014): set in Mali, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako // Foreign Language Film category

Abderrahmane Sissako is a director, producer, and writer born in Kiffa, Mauritania, now based in France. His other film credits include for Life on Earth (1998), Waiting for Happiness (2002), and Bamako (2006).


2018 AMAA Nominations for Best Director

Jade Osiberu: Isoken (2017), Nigeria

Jade Osiberu (with credits also under the name Jadesola Osiberu) is the founder of Tribe85 Productions, based in Lagos, Nigeria. She writes, directs, and produces.

Michael Mathews: Five Fingers For Marseilles (2017), South Africa

Michael Mathews founded Be Phat Motel Company alongside Sean Drummond in Cape Town, South Africa. He’s working on his second feature film Apocalypse Now Now and is represented by William Morris Endeavor & Management 360.

Frank Rajah Arase: In My Country (2018), Nigeria // WINNER

Frank Rajah Arase writes, produces, and directs. He’s based in Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana. His other film credits include Iyore (2015), Princess Tyra (2007), and Town in Danger (2003).

Sofia Djama: Les Bienheureux/The Blessed (2017), Algeria

Writer and filmmaker Sofia Djama was born in Oran, Algeria. Her short film Mollement, un samedi matin/Limply, One Saturday Morning (2012) was adapted from one of her early short stories. She’s represented by Zelig Agence Artistique et Littéraire and at work on a documentary and a short story collection.

Seyi Siwoku: Crossroads (2018), Nigeria

Seyi Siwoku started his career as a marine engineer and is now CEO of Jungle Filmworks, based in Lagos, Nigeria. He has directed and photographed many commercials, documentaries, and television shows.

Shemu Joyah: Road to Sunrise (2017), Malawi

Shemu Joyah is a self-trained filmmaker and writer, born in Zimbabwe to Malawian parents. He works as a land surveyor, real estate agent, and author in Malawi. His other film credits include Seasons of a Life (2010), The Last Fishing Boat (2012), and Mercy’s Blessing (2015).

Darrell Roodt: Siembamba (2017), South Africa

Akin Omotoso: Hotel Called Memory (2017), Nigeria

Director, producer, and writer Akin Omotoso grew up in Ife, Nigeria. His film credits include Blood Diamond (2006) and Tell Me Sweet Something (2015). He’s the founder of T.O.M. Pictures based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Peter Sedufia: Sidechic Gang (2018), Ghana

Peter Sedufia is a filmmaker based in Accra, Ghana. He graduated from the National Film and Television Institute and is director of Keteke (2017) and Master and 3 Maids.

Kenneth Gyang: The Lost Café (2017), Nigeria

Kenneth Gyang is a filmmaker from Plateau State, Nigeria. He is also director of Confusion Na Wa (2013) and the upcoming feature Òlòtūré. He founded Cinema Kpatakpata alongside Yinka Edward and Tom Rowlands-Rees.

Dr. Katherine Fusco, BFC/A Research Fellow, Reflects on Her Recent Visit

Katherine Fusco visited the BFC/A as a research fellow in October 2018. As Associate Professor of English at the University of Nevada she writes about the way different media forms shape identity and encourage us to be either cruel or kind to one another. She teaches courses on film, theory, and 19th and 20th century American literature. In this guest blog post, Fusco reflects on the research she conducted during her visit and the research and creative possibilities waiting in our archives.

Continue reading “Dr. Katherine Fusco, BFC/A Research Fellow, Reflects on Her Recent Visit”

Who are the current Black Academy members?

June 2018, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences extended 928 invitations to artists and executives who have distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures. There appear to be eighty-nine Black members–seventeen of whom identify as African, Afro-Caribbean, or Afro-European. The entire list is below with the Black members’ names in bold. (Ten individuals, noted by an asterisk, were invited to join the Academy by multiple branches.) We look forward to seeing more diversity when the list of 2019 invitees is released in the coming weeks.

 

Continue reading “Who are the current Black Academy members?”

See BORDERLINE, Starring Paul Robeson (1930) with a new score by composer Renée Baker. 

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The Black Film Center/Archive is excited to welcome back to Indiana University Renée Baker, who is scheduled to be present for a post-screening Q&A of the 1930 film Borderline on Wednesday April 24th at 7:00 pm. (Click HERE for tickets.) Baker, who recently visited Indiana University in 2017 to premier her score for a different film, The Scar of Shame (1927), and conduct an ensemble of musicians from the Jacobs School of Music, will return to pursue research at the BFC/A related to the life and work of musician and composer Phil Moore.

Donated to IU’s Black Film Center/Archive in 2014, the Phil Moore collection includes 70 boxes of handwritten arrangements and compositions he had created for various Hollywood films, albums, radio and TV programs and live musical acts over the years. Just last month BFC/A archivist Ronda Sewald discussed the collection in a lecture about recently digitized audio materials as part of a campus wide Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, which included several recordings of Moore’s. Baker has said of Moore that his “brilliant identity was usurped by his inability to claim ownership of so much of his work. His coaching of leading actresses and voices of the day is still a little known fact. I’m working on a project to help this visibility.” 

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Exhibit curated by BFC/A Archivist, Ronda Sewald on actor, activist, and musician, Paul Robeson. It’s just outside the Moving Image Archive on the ground floor of Wells Library.

Next Wednesday’s screening (Free Tickets HERE) features a predecessor and overlapping contemporary of Moore’s, Paul Robeson, as one of the stars of Borderline. Robeson was a singer, actor, and activist who was a star of both stage and screen. He was well known for taking up anti-imperialist causes and was a dedicated advocate of civil rights. Many of these activities led to his being blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy era.

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But as film historian Charles Musser writes, Robeson also achieved some of the greatest levels of artistic breadth and depth by “playing the high-low interface with diabolical cleverness; he moved among the bohemian little theater movement of Greenwich Village, the commercial world of Broadway, the black theater of Harlem, and the leftist theater of revolutionary Russia.” What is fascinating to Musser and others is Robeson’s ability to “use[…] film both artistically and as a cultural intervention. Despite his achievements, Robeson would later go on to denounce his film career, stating:

“I grew more and more dissatisfied with the stories I played in. Certain elements in a story would attract me and I would agree to play in it. But by the time the producers and distributors had got through with it, the story was usually very different, and so were my feelings about it.”

Whether this is the case for Borderline, is one reason to make sure and see it next Wednesday (Click here for tickets). Certainly the film is complex in its depiction of race and sexuality. And the question of how effective this complexity is at communicating the kind of stories Robeson thought were most honest or important makes Borderline that much more interesting.

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In the film Adah, played by Robeson’s wife Eslanda has an affair with a Thorne, a white man. The townspeople react and the brunt of their racism is put on display. Adah attempts a reconciliation with her husband, Pete (played by her real life husband, Robeson), but ends up fleeing town. Meanwhile, Thorne’s wife Astrid, played by the poet Helga Doom, seeks revenge and is met with violence. Her husband is suspected, but acquitted from criminal wrongdoing, while Pete must also leave town in light of these events.

Borderline also features an incredible technical virtuosity in silent-era filmmaking, with rapid and disorienting cuts, meant to elicit shock and intensity. Frames depicting people are juxtaposed with objects to connote uncertain meaning. And markers of non-normative gender and sexuality are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) signaled with daring resolve. The rich visual momentum of the film highlights the distortions of racism in a world where the scandal of whiteness typically just blends into the background.

BORDERLINE, Starring Paul Robeson (1930) with a new score by composer Renée Baker. 
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Wells Screening Room (ground floor, within Media Services)
Free Tickets with RSVP. Click this link: https://iub.libcal.com/event/5137951

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Reference: Musser, Charles. “Paul Robeson and the End of His ‘Movie’ Career.” in Contemporary Black American Cinema: Race, Gender and Sexuality at the Movies. Ed. Mia Mask, Routledge UP, 2012. pp. 14-39.