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Weekend Recs: Black Independent Film

Happy Friday, Wildcats! Falvey Library is delivering you another semester of Weekend Recs, a blog dedicated to filling you in on what to read, listen to, and watch over the weekend. Annie, a graduate assistant from the Communication department, scours the internet, peruses the news, and digs through book stacks to find new, relevant, and thought-provoking content that will challenge you and prepare you for the upcoming week. 

Wednesday marked the beginning of February, or Black History Month, a month dedicated to sharing and honoring the histories of Black Americans and the African diaspora. One such history is that of Black independent film in the United States.

Movies are a large and enduring cultural staple in the U.S., and Black filmmakers have been a vital yet underrepresented (and underappreciated) force in the film industry. In fact, Black independent film companies have been driving forces since the 1920s, a history that is often overshadowed by the (very white) studio system images of early Hollywood. This weekend’s recs will shed some light on some key moments in Black independent film history.

If you have 10 minutes…and want the sparknotes on Black independent film history, read this article.

If you have 15 minutes…and want to learn about an anti-Hollywood Black film movement from history, read Ntongela Masilela’s “The Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers,” the seventh chapter in Black American Cinema, available at Falvey. This 1970s movement dubbed the “L.A. Rebellion” was heavily inspired by Third Cinema and largely utilized black and white film.

Bonus: if you’re into indie and art-house cinema, watch Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep from the L.A. Rebellion movement, available in Falvey’s DVD Collection.

If you have 18 minutes…and are asking yourself what counts as a “Black film,” read Tommy L. Lott’s “A No-Theory Theory of Contemporary Black Cinema,” available online through Falvey. It brings up some thought-provoking dilemmas on how scholars conceptualize and study Black films.

If you have 30 minutes…and want to read about one of the earliest films to tackle racism and lynching, in response to the horrific Birth of a Nation, read Jane Gaines’s “Fire and Desire: Race, Melodrama, and Oscar Micheaux,” the third chapter in Black American Cinema, available at Falvey.

Bonus: if you want to check out one of the earliest Black independent feature-length films, watch Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates, available through inter-library loan.

Photo from Pamela Ferrell on Wikimedia Commons

If you have 1 hour and 30 minutes…and enjoy the mockumentary style, watch Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, available online through Falvey. The film follows Cheryl, who plays a version of herself, as she makes a documentary film trying to find the identity of a Black queer actress from the 1930s, dubbed “The Watermelon Woman.” This Black queer classic is genuinely enjoyable and, as a bonus, is even set and filmed in Philadelphia.

If you have 1 hour and 52 minutes…and are a fan of artsy period pieces, watch Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust. This film, the first film (ever) directed by a Black women to get a general theatrical release in the U.S. in 1991, dedicated by Dash to Black women in particular, tells the story of a Gullah family during the Great Migration who is faced with the choice to stay on Saint Helena Island, their familial home, or leave for mainland America. Daughters of the Dust also features non-Western storytelling techniques, Gullah culture and language (I would recommend subtitles to get the full experience), and absolutely gorgeous cinematography.

Bonus: If you’re a fan of one of the most iconic Black independent filmmakers of all time, Spike Lee, watch Do the Right Thing (a personal favorite of mine) and BlacKkKlansman, both available online through Falvey.

Annie Stockmal is a graduate student in the Communication Department and graduate assistant in Falvey Library. 

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Last Modified: February 3, 2023

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