In anticipation of Marvel’s “Black Panther,” BAMcinématek has programmed “Fight the Power: Black Superheroes on Film,” a retrospective that looks at the alternative cinematic history of black screen heroes who challenged establishment power structures through their sheer existence.
BAM exclusively shared with IndieWire 5 of the trading cards they commissioned from artist Nathan Gelgud for this 28-film retrospective (Feb 2-18). Click here to see all ten cards.
“Black Panther” Trading Card
“Cleopatra Jones” (1973)
Uzi-wielding Special Agent to the President,Cleo (six-foot-two model Dobson, listed by Guinness as the “Tallest Leading Lady in Film”) blows up Turkish poppy fields as she takes down the smack business run by Shelley Winters’ hysterical queenpin. This ferocious mix of feminism and fight-the-man attitude features a funky, gold-selling soundtrack and cameos by Soul Train’s Don Cornelius and Good Times’ Esther Rolle.
“Cleopatra Jones” Trading Card
Tony Todd in “Candyman” (1992)
“Candyman…Candyman…” Say his name five times in front of a mirror and the hook-handed serial killer spirit — the murdered son of slaves — appears. Or so the legend goes. Set in Chicago’s now-demolished Cabrini-Green housing projects, this Clive Barker adaptation features Tony Todd as a memorable — and terrifying — antihero in a film rich in compelling racial and social commentary.
“Candyman” Trading Card
Batman’s nemesis received her own big-screen showcase with Halle Berry (fresh from a history-making Oscar win) as the mild-mannered office worker transformed into a leather-clad, whip-cracking super-feline prowling a noir-ish CGI nightscape. Though it passed almost instantly into pop culture infamy, this DC Comics adaptation deserves a second look for being the rare $100 million studio spectacle built around a tale of black female empowerment.
“Catwoman” Trading Card
Winner of the Jury Prize at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, this transfixing masterpiece from Malian auteur Souleymane Cissé charts the coming-of-age odyssey of a young man (Kane) possessed of supernatural powers as he prepares to do battle with his evil sorcerer father. Set during the Mali Empire of the 13th century, Yeelen is shot through with an arresting, lyrical visual style and a spellbinding sense of mysticism.
“Yeelen” Trading Card
“Attack the Block” (2011)
This breathless British satire blends 80s-style creature-feature thrills, whipsmart wit, and incisive racial and class commentary into a near-perfect genre confection. John Boyega (in his film debut) plays a South London tough who leads a band of local teens in the fight against an alien invasion targeting their block.
The Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira gets a thrilling showcase in this alternately poetic and kinetic retelling of the life of Besouro Manganga, a legendary fighter who used his superhuman skills to liberate black workers from brutal white plantation owners in 1920s Brazil. The breathtaking action sequences — set amid the scenic splendor of the Bahia region’s jungles — are courtesy of “Kill Bill” and Jet Li choreographer Huen Chiu Ku.
“Foxy Brown” (1974)
Pam Grier cemented her status as a super-fly black power icon with this bam-bang-pow grindhouse classic, which smuggles in explosive social commentary alongside its vengeance-is-mine premise. She radiates tough-as-hell attitude as the titular “one-chick hit squad,” packing a pistol in her afro and posing as a prostitute to infiltrate the gang of baddies that murdered her boyfriend.
“The Meteor Man” (1993)
Writer-director-star Robert Townsend (the force behind the brilliant industry satire “Hollywood Shuffle”) helms this lovably goofy farce. He plays a DC schoolteacher who acquires super powers — chief among them, the ability to communicate with his dog — after being struck by a meteor, and sets about cleaning up his neighborhood, from taking on gangs to building a community garden. The Meteor Manboasts an eclectic series of cameos from Luther Vandross, Cypress Hill, Naughty by Nature, and others.
“Queen of the Damned” (2002)
Pop sensation Aaliyah — in the second and final of hertwo big screen appearances — lights up this deliciously dark, glitzy-goth horror extravaganza adapted from Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. She’s the all-powerful evil queen Akasha, whose wrath (and lust) is awakened by the vampire turned heavy metal superstar Lestat.
The Blaxploitation sensation that kicked off a wave of Afrocentric crime dramas stars Richard Roundtree as (per the iconic Oscar-garnering theme song) “the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks.” He roughs up perps left and right while tracking down the kidnapped daughter of Moses Gunn’s Harlem crime kingpin — all backed by Isaac Hayes’ classic-hot-buttered soul soundtrack.
“Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song” (1971)
Melvin Van Peebles’ landmark of black independent cinema stars the one-man auteur as a strapping sex-show performer who stands up to police brutality then finds himself on the run from the law through the underbelly of 70s LA. Combining X-rated spectacle, New Wave experimentation, and stick-it-to-the-man politics, Van Peebles created what Huey P. Newton called “the first truly revolutionary Black film.”
“The Harder They Come” (1972)
Legendary roots musician Jimmy Cliff is an aspiring singer who travels from the country to the streets of Kingston in search of stardom — only to become a crusading, anti-establishment outlaw of mythic proportions.