Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and the African American Film Critics Association(AAFCA) have partnered to preent a month-long screening series in September titled “The Black Experience on Film.” The comprehensive 32-film showcase highlights black performances and explores black identity throughout cinema history. Hosted by 13 different members of the AAFCA, programming begins September 4 and continues every Tuesday and Thursday in primetime, starting at 8pm.
It’s a very rare occurrence when the matter of a near-middle-aged black woman’s psyche is so generously examined, and sumptuously illustrated in rich, symbolistic terms, bringing to life their dreams and disappointments. And while writer-director Kathleen Collins didn’t emerge from the celebrated L.A. Rebellion film movement of the time, her work certainly contributed to what was then a new generation of African and African American filmmakers intent on creating a “Black Cinema” that acted as an alternative to Hollywood’s dominant output – especially where representations of people of African descent were concerned. Starring Seret Scott, the drama co-starred Bill Gunn and Duane Jones who subverted the vampire film with “Ganja and Hess” a decade later.
Considered the godfather of African cinema, late Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène’s digitally remastered and restored drama follows the trials of Senegalese maid Diouana, far away from home, working for a white French couple in Southern France. Capturing the everyday mundanities of her monotonous life, and the resulting mental anguish she suffers, the film is rich with symbolism and complexities that are essentially reactions to, and analyses of the cultural legacy of colonialism — a recurring theme throughout much of Sembène’s work.
Based on the hit 1944 Broadway play by Philip Yordan, “Anna Lucasta” follows sultry Eartha Kitt as a salacious lady of the night, and chic Sammy Davis, Jr. in this steamy tale of love and greed. When unapologetically reckless Anna Lucasta (Kitt) is banished from the family home by her self-righteous father, she falls into a life of prostitution and sometimes into the arms of street-wise sailor Danny Johnson (Davis), who wants her all to himself. Eventually, Anna surprises everyone around her when she finds true love with a wealthy, worldly, young suitor (unaware of her sordid past), when her unforgiving father plots vengeful a plan to destroy her promising future. With some unexpected twists and turns, scenarios don’t always play out as you might expect they will. The film, directed by Arnold Laven, was a genuine rarity for its time, as a serious, Hollywood studio-backed, dramatic film with a black leading cast, which was almost unheard of in 1958.
Director Michael Schultz’s heartfelt coming-of-age drama is one of those that routinely appears on “most loved black films” lists. Set in 1964 Chicago, the story chronicles the lives of two high school pals, Preach (Glynn Truman), who dreams of becoming a famous writer; and his best friend Cochise (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), the school basketball hero who’s headed for college and what looks like a promising career. We follow the pair as they fool around, cut class, crash parties, fall in love, and other mischief that most teenagers typically get involved in, as they dream of how to leave their poverty-stricken neighborhood for greener pastures. The only thing that really stands in their way are two local thugs out for revenge after a joy ride gone wrong.
Julie Dash’s groundbreaking 1991 historical drama is arguably one of the most significant films in the last 30 years. The first U.S. feature film written and directed by an African American woman to receive a wide theatrical release, the story, which is set in the early 1900’s, paints a vivid portrait of Gullah Geechee culture — communities descended from enslaved Africans who settled along the coast and Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. The film captures the last gathering of the Peazant family as the younger generation prepares to leave the island and their matriarch, Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day), for the promise of the mainland. The stunning color cinematography of Arthur Jafa, the recently restored “Daughters” was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2004.
An adaptation of William Faulkner’s classic 1948 novel of the same name, which is part mystery/part social commentary, the story unfolds in the deep south, chronicling the life of an elderly, respectable and wealthy black farmer — Lucas Beauchamp — who is falsely arrested for the murder of a white man. Chick Mallison (Claude Jarman Jr.), a 16-year-old white boy, who feels that he must repay a debt of honor to Beauchamp, searches for the real killer to save Beauchamp from being lynched. Directed by Clarence Brown, Juano Hernandez, whose 40-year career included over 30 credits, plays Lucas Beauchamp, in a performance that was groundbreaking for its depiction of a black man in cinema at the time.
Set in Ohio 1964, this drama centers on a white Midwestern woman and the black man she remarries, after her white husband leaves her and their young daughter. When her ex-husband discovers that she’s married a black man, he fights her for custody of the child. The feature-length debut of Larry Peerce, the film was a groundbreaking love story at the time, taking a delicate, compassionate approach to the reality of abandonment from friends and family unwilling to confront prejudice. Barbara Barrie, who won the Cannes trophy for Best Actress that year, stars in the film, alongside Bernie Hamilton (who plays the black man she remarries). Richard Mulligan and Robert Earl Jones (James Earl Jones’ father) round out the key cast. The film, which struggled to book theaterical playdates due to its subject matter, was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1965.
Filmmaking pioneer Oscar Micheaux’s second film might be his best. Shot in and around the Chicago area, Micheaux made “Within Our Gates” as a response to D.W. Griffith’s incendiary “Birth of Nation” (1915). The story follows a black woman with a scandalous past, who dedicates herself to helping a near bankrupt school for impoverished black children, after she is abandoned by her fiancé. Although quite melodramatic (as was typical of Micheaux’s films), “Gates” becomes starkly serious and brutal in the final third of the film. Depicting the mob lynching of a black husband and wife, not surprisingly, the film was censored in several cities, including Chicago, for fear of inciting race riots. Lost for decades, the film was eventually rediscovered and restored to its original version. In 1992, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.