As black filmmakers gain more traction within the Hollywood studio system, the Locarno Film Festival is putting the spotlight on black cinema around the world with a major retrospective titled Black Light set to kick off with Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” freshly restored by Universal in 4K for the landmark race drama’s 30th anniversary.
The more than 40-title Black Light retro spans from Oscar Micheaux’s 1920 silent drama “Within Our Gates,” which is the oldest known surviving film by an African-American director and portrays the struggle of a mixed-race school teacher in the Deep South, to Christopher Harris’s 2000 doc “Still Here” depicting the more recent blight of U.S. neighborhoods inhabited almost exclusively by African Americans.
Titles screening from outside the U.S. comprise Senegalese auteur Osmane Sembene’s 1966 “The black girl from …” based on a Sembene short and considered sub-Saharan Africa’s first feature film; 1974 Cuban romantic drama “De cierta manera” (“One Way or Another”) by Sara Gomez; and France-based Mauritanian director Med Hondo’s 1979 musical “West Indies” which narrates the history of the West Indies through centuries of French oppression.
“We cannot speak of a single black cinema any more than we can speak of one Africa,” the retro’s curator Greg de Cuir Jr. points out. Locarno’s Black Light therefore will be presenting a wide range of works with “internationalism” as its basic selection criteria, “all of them contributing to moving the conversation forward.”
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The U.S. does however feature prominently in Locarno’s Black Light retro just as black filmmakers made history in 2018, accounting for 14% percent of the directors of the top 100-grossing movies coming out of the Hollywood studios according to report by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. That’s a 270% increase over 2017. Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” and Steven Caple Jr.’s “Creed II” all contributed to raising the average.
In fact titles out of the U.S. account for nearly half the Locarno retro’s titles with works of all genres from the experimental “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One” (1968) by American American pioneer William Greaves to cult Blaxploitation pic “Coffy” starring Pam Grier as a nurse who becomes a vigilante; “Sweek Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (1971) by Melvin Van Peebles; the late John Singleton’s debut “Boyz N The Hood”; Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have it”; and artist Cauleen Smith’s 1998 feature film debut “Drylongso” about a young woman who spends her time taking Polaroids of African-American men to document their existence, out of fear that they will soon be extinct but in the process begins to realize that she, too, is in jeopardy.
Locarno’s new artistic director Lili Hinstin, who came up with the idea for the Black Light retrospective after another planned retro that was supposed to celebrate Blake Edwards was cancelled in March, said the idea was “to go beyond the #MeToo movement and explore the representation of minorities through the black issue.”
After bowing in Locarno Black Light is set to travel across Europe into 2020 having being already booked for stopovers at the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, the Arsenal in Berlin and the Cineteca in Madrid.
The 72nd edition of Locarno, which is dedicated to global indie cinema, will run in the Swiss lakeside town Aug 7-17.
Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” will screen as a pre-opening event in Locarno’s huge open air Piazza Grande venue on Aug 6.