Category Archives: Indiana University

An Interview With Dorothy Berry

                  

Meet Dorothy Berry, the Black Film Center/Archive’s 2015-2016 Graduate Assistant. In addition to completing her graduate studies (Masters of Arts in Ethnomusicology and Master of Library Science with an Archives Focus), Berry has played an important role in contributing to the success of the BFC/A’s year-round programming opportunities, including as programmer of the Fall 2016 film series, #BlackPanthersMatter: The Black Panther Party at 50. In this two-part interview, Berry first shares her personal connection to the Black Panthers and her role in organizing the Black Panther Party Series.

 

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Black Film Center/Archive Graduate Assistant Dorothy Berry and award-winning actor and activist Danny Glover

Prior to her studies at Indiana University, Berry earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Mills College. As a college student in Oakland, California, Berry experienced the city in a way that spoke to its rich historical roots.

When I lived in Oakland, I had an afro that I would wear every day.  I always had a combed-out afro walking down the streets of Oakland, people would always yell Angela Davis. Or old men would talk to me about what the 60’s were like.

Last time I was in Oakland I was walking to Lois the Pie Queen, and I walked by this old man and he just shouted out ‘I ain’t seen a natural like that in hella years!’ Oakland is an empowering Black place to live,” Berry shares, when describing her time in Oakland.

Berry recalls one of her first encounters with the Black Panther Party dating back to her freshman year of high school, in which she gave a presentation on A Huey P. Newton Story (2001), a solo theatrical performance based on Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton’s political vision, which was created, written, and performed by Robert Guenveur Smith and adapted into a film directed by Spike Lee.

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Roger Guenveur Smith’s A Huey P. Newton Story

“I think the one man show is in and of itself incredibly powerful if done correctly. There’s a real intimacy to it [A Huey P. Newton Story], even on film. His ability to get into both the charisma and unsettling obsession of the mindset was really powerful. I think it took me a long time to separate Huey P. Newton, the living human being, from Huey P. Newton as portrayed in this play. “

Following this experience, Dorothy conducted further research on the Black Panther Party and found herself equally enthralled by their organizational skills as it related to their ability to mobilize supporters and the deftness with which the Panther’s ideas were presented.

Though Berry found this one-man play did a good job in not glamorizing Huey P. Newton, she is aware of how often the Black Panther Party’s cult of personality eclipses the true complexities of the Black Panther Party.“Romanticization is a real danger especially with the masculine identities within the Black Panther Party, because they were so powerful…socially…culturally but there was also the misogyny. Eldridge Cleaver…the monstrosity of raping and the beating of Kathleen, etc.  You know it’s not something that I would romanticize and I feel like that’s one of the things about the Black Panthers that can be disadvantageous…it’s almost impossible not to romanticize something that just looks cool. Like even if you don’t know who they are or you don’t care about it and you’re like ‘Black Panthers, they like Black Power and they look great.’”

This ties into what Berry dubs as the “The misfortunate coolness of Black aesthetics,” in which the visuals are easy to consume, while the ideas are hard to process.

“The images become iconographic regardless of the visage of the actual person….like the Black Panthers have that aspirational coolness that Black people have always had; subcultural Black people in the United States always have coolness. They’re always defining the style years in advance and there is that long term history of everyone wanting the commodifiable aspects of cool Blackness but not the struggle aspects. That’s particularly dangerous with something that is a specific political movement because you can go buy a leather jacket and a beret and you can set yourself up to be whatever you want. So my question is does the iconography live beyond the actual message?  But also I think that they specifically utilized and militarized their imagery, it wasn’t just that they happened to be some cool guys that loved jackets.”

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The Black Panther Tours’ Official Black Panther Historical Tour Guide

When considering other films that might continue to showcase the Black Panthers’ cultural and political reach, Berry also selected The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 as she found it to be a film that provided various opportunities for its screening audience to engage with the story of the Black Panther Party in a profound way:

“I think that there is this audience at an academic university that already has a knowledge of the Black Panther Party and the things that they may think are cool relating to the Black Panthers, but those things aren’t necessarily accessible to a wider audience, even a wider audience that’s equally smart and equally willing to be engaged but just hasn’t been engaged as of yet. So I think a film like that which has interviews with people that are more potentially recognizable like ?uestlove or Erykah Badu makes it more accessible to a broader audience than someone that would be like ‘Oh yeah, I love the Last Poets…I’m already down for that part of the cause.’”

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Scene from The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

In addition to the milestone anniversary of the Black Panther Party, the programming of this series was fitting for many other reasons:

“I thought for a 50th anniversary and since they’ve been in the spotlight a lot lately, visually, with Beyoncé at the Super Bowl, and even with just different news articles doing a chronology with Black Lives Matter I think that an actual straightforward primer is really beneficial.

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Scene from Beyoncé’s performance at the 2016 Super Bowl Halftime Show

And also thinking about this being screened at an academic institution, it makes it easier to maybe assign attending the screening to students.”

Berry’s hope is that this can be used as an educational opportunity that can engage as wide of an audience as possible at Indiana University.

“It’s saddening just what people aren’t taught even at ages where I would assume that they would know things. I taught a Survey of Hip Hop course and those kids really didn’t have a background to be prepared to talk about American history. I feel like it’s important to provide screening opportunities and cultural opportunities generally that are accessible beyond people that already like films. Like people who do want to go and see it because they’re like ‘Oh I’ve always wanted to see this on the big screen.’ Or have always wanted to see this in 16 mm…which is great, because that’s who I am, but I think as a programmer in a public academic institution, you have a responsibility to everybody.”

~Yalie Kamara

[Part two of “Interview with Dorothy Berry” coming soon]


BOAN of Contention: The 1979 IU Screenings of THE BIRTH OF A NATION

On November 12 and 13, the Black Film Center/Archive presents From Cinematic Past to Fast Forward Present: D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation – A Centennial Symposium. A full schedule of events, including keynotes, panels, and screening, is available at www.boancentennial.org. In anticipation of the symposium, BFC/A graduate assistant Dorothy Berry looks back to 1979, when “over 900 people came to see The Birth of a Nation at two very different screenings” on the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington.

James Baldwin’s 1976 description of The Birth of a Nation (BOAN) as both “one of the great classics of the American cinema” and “an elaborate justification of mass murder” succinctly captures the challenges of screening D.W. Griffith’s blockbuster film. There is no denying the seminal role of BOAN in American film history. There is also no denying the seminal role of BOAN in the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the popular rewriting of the history of the Reconstruction South.

Controversies surrounding the screening of BOAN have often emerged from the intersection of those two truths. “Why shouldn’t we screen the runaway hit of 1915 that entertained hundreds of thousands?” “Why should we screen a film that has been actively used as recruitment propaganda for the Ku Klux Klan?” These questions were asked and argued on the Indiana University campus in the beginning of the 1979 spring semester when over 900 people came to see BOAN at two very different screenings.

BOAN has long been prized for its cinematic innovations and its role in the rise of film as popular entertainment. Many fans of classic film have screened BOAN simply as that – an entertaining film from the early days of the movie industry. This sort of screening was what the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) had in mind when they sponsored a screening of BOAN at the IU Auditorium with live accompaniment from famed silent film organist, Dennis James, with a two-dollar ticket fee, as a fundraiser for the chapter. The screening was scheduled for Saturday, February 3, 1979, and was part of an ongoing silent film series.

The AGO screening was immediately met by pushback from IU students and faculty. The first complaint dealt with the issue of timing – screening BOAN in the first week of Black History Month, an observance that had only been federally recognized for three years at that point. AGO conceded this point in the face of protests and moved the screening to March 19th.

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Protesters outside the IU Auditorium direct attendees to the counter-screening at Woodburn Hall, March 19, 1979. (Photo: Terry John)

The second complaint was more complex. An argument was made from faculty, students and members of the local community that BOAN should not be shown as a de-contextualized entertainment. AGO withdrew their sponsorship, but then amidst new counter-protests, decided to continue, asserting that the film had historic, artistic, and educational merit.

What makes this case study in the history of BOAN screenings so interesting, however, is that the original protestors never called for the film’s banning. The major concern dealt entirely with framing the screening. “We don’t advocate complete censorship of the film,” IU student and Black Student Union member Deborah Bailey told the Herald-Times. “What we advocate is a proper time for debate and discussion before and after the film.”

Framing concerns came to a head on March 19, 1979, when the IU campus offered two concurrent screenings of BOAN. The AGO screening with live accompaniment moved on in the auditorium, while across the campus in Woodburn Hall, a counter-screening and teach-in was scheduled to begin a half an hour later. Guided by professor of Afro-American studies Phyllis Klotman (who founded the Black Film Center/Archive at IU two years later) and film studies graduate student, Andetrie Smith, the Woodburn Hall counter-screening was inspired and organized by the Black Student Union, with support from the IU Students Association, the Residence Halls Association, and local organizations like the Monroe County NAACP branch and Black churches.

On the eve of the screenings, demonstrators gathered outside the auditorium, directing attendees to the Woodburn Hall event and handing out leaflets that advertised “Free Admission” and proper contextualization at the counter-screening. The Woodburn Hall counter-screening and teach-in ended up with around 300 attendees, nearly a full house. The IU Auditorium screening brought in 600 attendees, twice as many as the teach-in but a fairly small attendance given the venue’s 3,154 seat capacity.

Just hours before the screening and counter-screening, Dennis James, the organ accompanist, canceled his then-upcoming screening of The Ten Commandments, planned for April 15 at the IU Auditorium, saying that “I have no concept now of judging the college audience.”

~Dorothy Berry

 


SEMBENE! directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman visit Indiana University, Oct. 19-20

With a filmography spanning over forty years, Senegal’s Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007) earned international renown as a revolutionary artist and as the “Father of African Cinema” for his indigenized filmmaking practice. Sembène eschewed Western languages and narrative style for a new cinematic aesthetic drawing from African storytelling traditions, performed in African languages (Wolof, Diola, Bambara), and expressly produced for African audiences. Sembène has been heard to say: “Africa is my ‘audience’ while the West and the ‘rest’ are only targeted as ‘markets.’” Fifty years on from his first feature production, the Black Film Center/Archive and IU Cinema celebrate his legacy with a series featuring a new documentary and digital restorations of two of his earliest films.

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In addition to the October 19 screenings of La Noire De … (Black Girl) and Borom Sarret (The Wanderer), the new biographical documentary Sembène! will be shown at IU Cinema on Tuesday, October 20th, with filmmakers Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman scheduled to attend. This will follow a roundtable discussion with BFC/A director Michael T. Martin.

Reviewing its 2015 premiere at Sundance, Bilge Ebiri wrote that, of all the festival’s entries this year, “no film demonstrated the power of cinema more resonantly than Sembène!” The documentary chronicles Ousmane Sembène’s fascinating life as a militant artist, self-taught novelist, and “Father of African Cinema.” Using rare archival footage, animation, and the firsthand experience of Sembène expert and colleague Samba Gadjigo, the filmmakers present an honest and complex portrait of a man whose significance to modern African culture cannot be overstated.

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Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo

 

Sembène! emerges also as Gadjigo’s story, as he recounts the ways that Sembène’s work transformed his life. The Mount Holyoke professor was born in Senegal, where his life was changed by Sembène’s novel, God’s Bits of Wood. After earning his PhD from the University of Illinois, Gadjigo returned to Africa to connect with the artist who had such a formative impact on his life. “We worked together for 17 years,” Gadjigo told Indiewire. “and it was an honor to help him bring his stories into the world. On the day of his death, I promised that I would not let his stories be forgotten. That’s why we made this film.”

Jason Silverman, who is the director of the cinemathèque at the Center of Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, reached out to Samba Gadjigo as part of an effort to include more African film in the center’s programming. “I knew Jason was so knowledgeable about the cinema world,” Gadjigo told BOMB Magazine, “so I told him I had all this [Sembène] material and wanted him to help me organize it. A film really wasn’t the idea so much as building a website to share all this material with the world. He looked at me and said, ‘No. We should make a movie!’”

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Ousmane Sembène

 

In conjunction with the IU Cinema and BFC/A screening series, Sembène: Father of African Cinema, Black Film Center/Archive director Michael T. Martin will moderate a roundtable discussion of Sembène’s work and legacy. This discussion will follow from the previous evening’s screenings of the World Cinema Project‘s digital restorations of La Noire De … (Black Girl) and Borom Sarret (The Wanderer).

Roundtable discussion participants include:

Akin Adesokan, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature

Samba Gadjigo, Professor of French, Mount Holyoke College, and Co-Director of Sembène! (2015)

Eileen Julien, Director, Institute for Advanced Study, and Professor of French and Comparative Literature

Michael T. Martin, Director, Black Film Center/Archive, and Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, The Media School

Jason Silverman, Cinematheque Director, Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, and Co-Director of Sembène! (2015)

The event is free, and begins at 3:30 PM, before the evening’s screening of Sembène!  This series is sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive, The Media School, the Cinema and Media Studies program, and the departments of African Studies, French and Italian, and Comparative Literature.

~Jezy Gray


A Sense of Ourselves: Filming Black Authors and the Burnham Ware Collection

In the field of moving image archiving, lost films are not uncommon. This issue is especially pervasive in Black cinematographic culture due to the difficulties in accessing cameras, films, and archives to preserve the work created by filmmakers. These films, created by and about Black people of color, represent the history experienced through the eyes of those with first hand knowledge and interaction with it. As the famed Roots author Alex Haley wrote, “Because for a long period of time it was against the law to teach slaves to read and write, much of black American history had to be documented by people other than blacks. As a result, much of our history has either been lost or severely distorted,” (Kern-Foxworth, 1994). All lost films are a detriment to the knowledge of the history of those who have come before us, but without organizations like the Black Film Center/Archive, the amount of absent information specifically related to Black films and filmmakers would be insurmountable.

The Burnham Ware Collection, 1980-1989 is one collection that escaped this unfortunate fate. Donated by the filmmaker Burnham Ware in 1993, the twelve, unique Super 8 films feature four prominent Black writers: Gloria Naylor, Houston A. Baker, Terry McMillan, and Alex Haley. In a history wrought with stereotypes and misrepresentation, this Collection gives great insight into African-American literature from the 1980s.

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Alex Haley at Georgetown College in Kentucky, October 1982.

Film was embedded into Mr. Burnham Ware’s (b. 1949) life at an early age. He and his father would watch movies together each week and his mother, a domestic worker, was able to secure him a photographic camera from her employer. His avid interest in Blues music coupled with photography led him to music festivals in the late 1960s. It was there in Ann Arbor, MI where Ware met up with the creators and staff of Living Blues Magazine, who agreed to pay him to write and take photographs for the magazine. As many can empathize, financial constraints led Ware to a more stable professional opportunity working for the Kentucky State Government in Libraries and Archives Department, as what he describes as a “laborer” for the next twenty-seven years.

Ware appreciated this feeling of constancy, but did not allow his new position to shrink his pursuit of filmmaking. He frequently made time to film different kinds of events around the state, from lectures at local colleges and universities, to a KKK rally and protest. Though he did not have any official credentials, Ware would typically head to a lecture and set up near the stage, filming the event with his newly purchased (and expensive!) Super 8 camera. He remembers Terry McMillan’s lecture at Kentucky State University fondly: she was “a funky lady, not your typical academic type,” brought on campus one afternoon by the English department to speak to students. Silent film and still photographs were taken of her, just as they were of Alex Haley at his speaking engagement at Georgetown College (KY) in early October of 1982. Ware set up his equipment like he typically did, and shot four reels of Haley before receiving a wave and smile from the author upon his departure. The Haley reels (see clips) were color with no sound, and were especially exciting for Ware because of Alex Haley’s fame due to his work on Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) and Roots (1976).

Viewing the works of Mr. Burnham Ware allows us to reclaim a sense of ourselves in what can be a sea of negativity. In the age of a flourishing social media presence, one would think it would be simple for people of color to create and re-create our own history but, though it might be a new age, problems of racism, dehumanization, and scare tactics still exist. This fact highlights the importance of archiving and preserving films like those in the Burnham Ware Collection. Ware’s contributions equal those of other amateur Black filmmakers interested in documenting the less public parts of our society.

Mr. Ware continued to film and take photographs of small, but no less important, events in Kentucky until about 1998. His decision to not film any longer came with the grief of losing his father, a person that was fundamental in his relationship with film and the moving image. Despite that, however, he still feels the phantom effects of the camera in his life, and is always taking “pictures in [his] head” everywhere he goes. This small action gives us hope that other young women and men will take up the camera, in any and all of the ways it is formatted, and continue to write and preserve our history, black or otherwise.

The Burnham Ware Collection is available at the Black Film Center/Archive. The Alex Haley reels have been converted into a digital format and are available for viewing below. If you have more information on Mr. Ware’s Collection, please contact Brian Graney, Senior Archivist and Head of Public and Technology Services at the BFC/A, bpgraney@indiana.edu. An enormous thank you to Mr. Burnham Ware, Betsy Morelock (Kentucky State University), Brian Graney, Rachael Stoeltje (IU Libraries Moving Image Archive), and Andy Uhrich (IULMIA) for their help was integral to the creation, continuation, and completion of this project.

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~Amanda Ferrara

Amanda Ferrara is a Massachusetts native with a BA from Smith College (MA) and a MLS from Indiana University (IN). She is interested in increasing diversity of, and outreach to, people of color in academic and government archives. This is her first project integrating these topics with film and the moving image.

NOTES

Kern-Foxworth, M. (1994). Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus: Blacks in advertising, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Kerr, L. M. (2013). Collectors’ Contributions to Archiving Early Black Films. Black Camera: An International Film Journal (The New Series), (1), 274.

 

 


New IU Summer Research Fellowship Now Available through the Institute for Advanced Study

The Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) has announced its Summer Research Fellowship, a new program offered in partnership with repositories on the Bloomington campus.  The Black Film Center/Archive is pleased to be among the partner repositories for this program.

Beginning in Summer 2015, IAS will fund a short-term Summer Research Fellowship for a visiting scholar to conduct in-depth research in the collections of one or more of IAS’s partner repositories. Applications from researchers at Minority Serving Institutions, community colleges and in source communities are welcome. Preference will be given to applicants who are collaborating with Indiana University Bloomington faculty members.

This initiative is intended to support research in the rich collections of the IU Bloomington campus and to build partnerships between scholars at and beyond IUB. The fellowship provides funding for travel costs, accommodation, per diem, and a two-week stipend. Summer 2015 partner repositories include the Archives of Traditional Music, the Black Film Center/Archive, the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, the IU Libraries, and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. Applications are due by June 1, 2015. For application materials and additional information, please visit the IAS website at http://ias.indiana.edu/fellows/summer-research-fellowship/ .

The Institute for Advanced Study is a research center of the Indiana University Office of the Vice Provost for Research.


Sexuality and the Black Radical Imagination symposium, Friday, April 10

On Friday, April 10, the Department of Gender Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences will host the Sexuality and the Black Radical Imagination symposium, an exploration of the importance of black radical imagination to gender and sexual politics in 21st century black communities.

This daylong event will be a transformative interdisciplinary conversation between emerging dynamic scholars in the fields of Gender and Sexuality Studies and African American Studies.

Featured speakers include:

  • C. Riley Snorton, Assistant Professor in Africana Studies and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University.
  • Amber Jamilla Musser, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.
  • Ariane Cruz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at The Pennsylvania State University.
  • Kai M. Green, Postdoctoral Fellow in Sexuality Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern University.

The event begins at 2:00 PM on April 10, 2015, at the Neal Marshall Black Culture Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave., in Theater Room A201.

The event flier is online here.  For more information, contact L.H. Stallings at 812-855-0101 / lhortons@indiana.edu.


Italian-Ghanaian filmmaker and activist Fred Kudjo Kuwornu coming to IU, Nov. 17-19

Indiana University’s Department of French & Italian will bring Fred Kudjo Kuwornu to campus next week to screen two of his award-winning documentaries– 18 Ius Soli and Inside Buffalo. Kuwornu will also show excerpts from his current project, Blaxploitation, during his lecture on “Blackness in Italian Cinema.” All events take place Nov. 17-19 (see details below).

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Fred Kudjo Kuwornu, born and raised in Italy, is an Italian-Ghanaian activist, producer, writer, and director based in Brooklyn, NY and Rome. In 2010, after working with the production crew of Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna (2008), he produced and directed the award-winning documentary Inside Buffalo, followed in 2011 by 18 lus Soli. Kuwornu founded the non-profit organization Diversity Italia, promoting the importance of racial and ethnic diversity in Europe, using film and other arts as tools for building a more inclusive society. His current projects are Blaxploitalian about Blackness in Italian cinema, Afropeans about the Black diaspora in Europe, and 65 about the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Act

Nov. 17, 6:45-9:30 pm, WH 120

Screening: 18 Ius Soli presented and discussed by the director

FredKuwornuThis documentary is organized around interviews of 18 successful young men and women born in Italy of immigrant parents and the effect of the law that says they must be 18 years old before they can obtain Italian citizenship.

 Nov. 18, 12:00-2:00pm, ED 1230

Screening: Inside Buffalo presented and discussed by the director

Award-winning film documentary about the untold story of the African-American soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division, who valiantly fought side-by-side with Italian partisans against the Nazis along the Gothic Line, mainly in Tuscany.

 Nov. 19, 6:45-9:30 pm, GY 126

Lecture: Blackness in Italian Cinema with clips from backstage rough cut Blaxploitalian, followed by Q&A session

This story never before told, spanning over 100 years, starting from silent and colonial movies up to the present day, recounts the contributions of actors of African descent to Italian cinema.

Sponsored by the Olga Ragusa Fund of the Department of French & Italian