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Black Cinema Forward: Focus on Women, Minorities

by Kimberly Lawson

March 17, 2016

Photo: (below) Filmmaker Nijla Mu'min, whose short films will screen at the first Black Cinema Forward series presentation at C3 Lab Sunday. 

Earlier this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got slammed for yet another edition of #OscarsSoWhite, in which no actors of color were nominated in any of the four acting categories. As a result, some fantastic work that deserved to be recognized wasn’t.

Sadly, it wasn't exactly a new development; women and minorities have long been ignored by the Hollywood filmmaking machine. Felix Curtis, who’s called Charlotte home for 10 years now, knows how Hollywood operates, having worked with several film festivals on the West Coast. This weekend he launches a new endeavor to bring films to Charlotte that might not otherwise be available to the masses.

Black Cinema Forward is a new quarterly film series that will showcase the works of emerging black filmmakers, specifically women. A cousin to the monthly Classic Black Cinema Series, which is now in its sixth year at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Black Cinema Forward will kick off at C3 Lab in South End on Sunday, March 20. Three short films (Deluge, Dream and Two Bodies) by 30-year-old Nijla Mu'min will be featured, and a discussion with the filmmaker will follow.

Charlotte Viewpoint chatted with Curtis about the new program, the lack of diversity in Hollywood and more.

Where did the idea for Black Cinema Forward come from?

In 1990, I was living in Oakland, Calif., and I got involved with the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, which was an organization that was giving awards to black performers, actors, anybody in the film industry that had been ignored by Hollywood. As a part of this celebration, they also had a film festival component, and that’s how I got involved. [Black Cinema Forward] is an outgrowth of what I was doing in Oakland. I wanted to start a series where we would interact with the filmmakers, get their ideas and what their inspirations and aspirations are and what they perceive as their place in the industry.

What’s the criteria for the films you plan to showcase in this series?

Our emphasis is really to show works that aren’t accessible. You can’t find them on television or in the theaters. I also like to showcase the acting chops of black performers. I like to show the different styles of filmmaking that directors use, and a lot of films that are historically relevant or have been overlooked or ignored in the past.

You mentioned one of the reasons you started this series was because of the recent “renaissance of black filmmaking,” citing the works of Ryan Coogler, Ava Duvernay, Issa Rae and others. Why do you think this renaissance is happening now?

Filmmaking, as far as creating a film and getting it produced, is not as prohibitive as it has been in the past. So more and more people are looking at that as a means. Plus, people are not concentrating as much on books and literature; they’re more looking at films to get that dramatic fix.

Why is it important to put a spotlight on works created by black filmmakers?

The film industry has expanded to different media sources. You have the whole web series, you have a lot of the stuff that’s going on television now that’s diverse. What’s happening is some of the stories, very good dramatic screenwriting and directing, aren’t being greenlighted [for those platforms]. And a lot of it is from female filmmakers. The heads in Hollywood and also the majority in television are white males, so you can see that there’s going to be a conflict as far as what’s being selected and what’s being shown to the majority. With the exception of Shonda Rhimes, who’s on television, you really don’t see too many black female directors being showcased in Hollywood or in the theaters.

In the discussions you host after your viewings, how do you tackle race?

[We look at] two aspects: One is the subject matter and what’s emphasized. The other is how blacks are depicted in these films. You have older films where black actors were put in stereotypical roles. If you look at modern day films, you can still see those same parallels. And it’s up to black filmmakers to counteract that to show different perspectives. The films we show, we point out the stereotypical aspects and give context to why actors submitted to that. And we also look at films that are done by white directors that showcase blacks in a positive light. For instance, last Sunday, we did a film called White Nights, which was showcasing Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov. We mention the director [Taylor Hackford] also had directed An Officer and a Gentleman, which Louis Gossett Jr. got an award for, and more recently he directed Ray about Ray Charles, which Jamie Foxx got an Academy Award for. Not all films done by whites will show blacks in a stereotypical role, but we do have to be on the lookout for those that do and make comments about them.

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Tags: film, #OscarsSoWhite, Hollywood, Nijla Mu'min, C3 Lab, Charlotte, Shonda Rhimes

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