Serendipity. For some time, I had been thinking about a season of black films and had approached someone who worked at The Albany. I wanted someone from the black community to curate it. We met a few times and he gave me a list of movies. Around the same time, I had a meeting at Film Hub London about another season – the thrillers that you can see this autumn at Deptford Cinema. I was then asked if I had any more ideas. I showed the woman the list I had in my pocket and bingo: the BFI was planning a Black Stars season and was ready to support cinemas like ours. The original list then needed to be altered as the man at The Albany and I hadn’t started out thinking about actors – the black stars. My new method was to kick off with the 1950’s and think about the performers decade by decade. I just brainstormed, aiming to think about female as well as male stars. Time was short and I ended up doing this in a rush by myself.
There are some names that became musts: Sydney Poitier. There are others where I wanted to show work that hadn’t been widely seen – with actors taking a risk e.g. Will Smith playing a gay man in Six Degrees of Separation – or appearing in quality films that hadn’t been widely seen e.g. Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress.
Some films were unavailable, alas: Paul Robson in Showboat; Diana Ross so good in Lady Sings the Blues. When news of the latter came through, I had to think quickly: I wanted a female to replace Ross – but who? I couldn’t face Whoopi Goldberg. I then thought: okay, forget the so-called big names. Let’s shine a light on a supporting player. Step forward Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life. For me, this is the highlight of the season, the most interesting and in some ways challenging of the films. Please don’t miss it. And next year, I promise you a Douglas Sirk season. If you have never heard of him, google his name and watch this space.
It is funny revisiting some of these films. Analyse, for example, In the Heat of the Night: a 1960’s seminal text. Think of all the problems black people are still facing, especially in the USA. Poitier is Miss Marple within the narrative: the smart one who picks up all the clues. Not only that – he is the sophisticated man from the urban north, dressed in a smart suit. The southerners come across appallingly in contrast. And in the Deep South of the 60’s, our cool smart protagonist is constantly at risk of being lynched! It’s deadly accurate and a fascinating – and scary – time and place study of racism.
Deptford Cinema badly needs more black programmers. We need to see your choices. Come and take over. Film programming meetings are currently at 3.00 pm on Sunday. General Meetings are at 4 pm the same day.
I hope you enjoy the films. I will be at the cinema to introduce them. Come and say hello.
Our big thanks to the BFI for their support.
We are also very grateful to NXDFFF for their support with our small season of films celebrating Black History Month. Our next screening will be PRESSURE (1976) a film by Horace Ové.