This guide offers just a glimpse of the diverse work of Black artists: singers, songwriters, producers, filmmakers, activists, poets, authors, painters, and playwrights, among other disciplines. Their work is interdisciplinary and situated at the intersection of many aspects of their personal identities. Challenging superstructures of racism, sexism, classism, and ableism, they also represent Black love, joy, pride, hope, family, and community through their craft. These titles, and many more housed at Media Services, chronicle the lives of Black artists and their outstanding work. From documentaries about legends like James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, to contemporary visionaries such as Kehinde Wiley and Ellen Gallagher, this collection of films helps contextualize over 100 years of Black artistic expression.
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Black Is… Black Ain’t (87min, 1995) Is there an essential Black identity? In this documentary, acclaimed filmmaker Marlon Riggs explores the diversity of African-American lifestyles and cultural expressions, even as many speakers bare their pain at having been called "too Black, " or conversely, "not Black enough." Riggs brings viewers face-to-face with African Americans young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban, gay and straight, while offering a powerful critique of sexism, homophobia, and colorism within the Black community. Includes performances by choreographer Bill T. Jones and poet Essex Hemphill and commentary from noted cultural critics Angela Davis, bell hooks, Cornel West, and others.
Black is the Color (52min, 2016) Faced with racist caricatures, African American painters decided to present a different image of their community than the one imposed by the degrading stereotypes of a brutally racist society. Ignored and marginalized, they had to wait a century before they finally won recognition. This film tells the story of how African American artists took back their image, from the abolition of slavery to the present day.
I Am Not Your Negro (94min, 2016) An Oscar-nominated documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro explores the continued peril America faces from institutionalized racism. In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin's death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript. Now, in his incendiary new documentary, master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin's original words and flood of rich archival material. I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.
James Baldwin: Speech on Civil Rights (19min, 1968) This video is a film of James Baldwin giving a speech on civil rights to a group of students in London.
James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (86min, 1990) James Baldwin was at once a major 20th-century American author, a civil rights activist, and a prophetic voice calling Americans, black and white both, to confront their shared racial tragedy. This film biography of Baldwin's life captures the passion of his beliefs with stirring excerpts from his novels and striking archival footage dating from the Harlem Renaissance through to the author's commentary on civil rights to his writing retreats in Istanbul and Europe. Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and William Styron provide insight as the program skillfully links excerpts from Baldwin's major works to different historical stages in black/white dialogue.
Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace (53min, 2014) Known for his vibrant reinterpretations of classical portraits featuring African-American men, New York-based painter Kehinde Wiley has turned the practice of portraiture on its head and in the process has taken the art world by storm. This film follows the artist as he embarks on an exciting new project: a series of classical portraits of African-American women-something he's never done before. The film documents the project as it unfolds, tracking Wiley's process from concept to canvas, casting his models on the streets of New York and enlisting Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy to create couture gowns for each woman. The film offers a tantalizing look at the intersection of art and fashion and an intimate portrait of one of this generation's most intriguing and accomplished visionaries.
Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart (118min, 2017) This film is the first full-length documentary on the subject of Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry was a celebrated playwright and a passionate activist. Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart offers a deeper look into the life, work, and activism beyond her best-known work, A Raisin in the Sun.
Soundtrack for a Revolution (82min, 2009) On picket lines, in organizational meetings, even in police wagons and jail cells, songs of protest and inspiration helped drive the civil rights movement. Showcasing many of those songs, this stirring documentary explores the history of the era through archival footage, interviews with key civil rights activists, and performances by contemporary artists assembled specifically for the film. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, former NAACP chairman Julian Bond, freedom rider Hank Thomas, civil rights organizer Jim Lawson, former King aide Dorothy Cotton, and music legend Harry Belafonte are among those interviewed. On-camera performers include John Legend, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, and The Roots. Featured songs: "Wade in the Water, " "This May Be the Last Time, " "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round, " "We Shall Not Be Moved, " and more.
Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun (84min, 2008) A biography of African American author and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, the first black woman to enter the American literary canon.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (256min, 2006): Documents the pivotal events that preceded and followed Hurricane Katrina's passage through New Orleans on August 29, 2005.
A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde (53min, 2006): Audre Lorde, poet and lesbian-feminist talks about being lesbian and black in New York in the 1950s and her social/political activity. Includes conversations and readings by Lorde and comments by other writers and family members.
Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (97min, 2011): Michael Rapaport goes on tour with A Tribe Called Quest in 2008, when they reunite to perform sold-out concerts across the country, almost ten years after the release of their last album, The Love Movement. Rapaport captures the story of their tenuous relationship as personal differences and unresolved conflicts continue to threaten their creative cohesion. Get a behind-the-scenes look at their journey and contributions as a band, and what currently is at stake for these long-time friends.
Black Wax (89min, 2015): Shot entirely on location in Washington, D.C., primarily at the Wax Museum nightclub and on the streets of the city Mr. Scott-Heron long considered his home. Robert Mugge's 1982 film showcases the art, the life, and the personality of the great African American poet-singer-songwriter-author Gil Scott-Heron whom many have called the forefather of hip-hop and socially-conscious rap music, and whom UK music weekly Melody Maker once dubbed "the most dangerous musician alive." One of the first music films commissioned by Andy Park of Britain's Channel 4 Television.
Brooklyn Boheme (84min, 2011): "An intimate portrait of the Black arts movement that exploded in Fort Greene from the mid 1980s through the 90s as told by writer, historian and Brooklyn resident Nelson George"--IMDB website
A Great Day in Harlem (81min, 1991): A great day in Harlem tells the story of Art Kane's famous 1958 group photograph of the jazz greats of the period. Includes home movie footage of that day of the musicians arriving and greeting each other the morning of the shoot. Also includes conversations with musicians and archival performance footage.
Color Adjustment (88min, 2004): This study of prejudice and perception traces over forty years of race relations in America through the lens of prime time TV entertainment. Revisiting such popular hits as Amos and Andy, Beulah, The Nat King Cole Show, Julia, I Spy, Good Times and Roots, viewers see how bitter racial conflict was absorbed into the non-controversial formats of the prime time series.
Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes (61min, 2006): A look at the conceptualization of masculinity in hip-hop culture. Includes interviews with prominent rappers, music industry executives, and social critics.
That Rhythm, Those Blues (58min, 2013): Deals with rhythm and blues music performed by Black musicians during the 1940s and 1950s in small towns and rural areas of the American South, and their aspirations of performing in the Apollo Theater.
The Blues: A Musical Journey (780min, 2003): The blues is a seven-part documentary film series exploring the evolution of the blues, featuring rare archival performance footage of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon... [et al.], also including over 100 newly-filmed performances by contemporary artists such as B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Beck ... [et al.] singing classic blues songs.
The Sun’s Gonna Shine: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (41min, 1969): A lyrical recreation of Lightnin' Hopkins' decision at age eight to stop chopping cotton and start singing for his living (1st work) ; Hopkins' words and songs provide a musical portrait of the black culture of Texas, which reaches back to poverty, hard times, and a deep love of the land. (2nd work).
I Called Him Morgan (91min, 2018): A look into the relationships between jazz musician Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen, who shot him to death at a jazz club in New York in 1972.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (93min, 2010): In his short career, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a phenomenon. He became notorious for his graffiti art under the moniker Samo in the late 1970s on the Lower East Side scene, sold his first painting to Deborah Harry for $200, and became best friends with Andy Warhol. Appreciated by both the art cognoscenti and the public, Basquiat was launched into international stardom.
Conjure Women (85min, 2010): Documentary that explores the artistry and philosophy of four African-American women: choreographer/dancer, Anita Gonzalez; performance artist, Robbie McCauley; photographer, Carrie Mae Weems; and musician, Cassandra Wilson. Includes interviews with these women and shows their works and performances. Intended to challenge images and assumptions of African-American culture.
Against the Odds: The Artists of the Harlem Renaissance (60min, 2006): Documentary tells of the struggle of Black visual artists in the 1920's and 1930's to show and sell their work. Documents the influence of the Harmon Foundation in creating an artistic home where Black visual artists flourished and developed a wide range of talent. Also included were items in the show curated by the Newark Museum to celebrate the work of the Foundation.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (114min, 2017): Examines the life and legacy of African American poet, memoirist, and civil rights worker Maya Angelou, from her upbringing in the Depression-era South to her work with Malcolm X in Ghana to the recitation of her inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton. Includes Angelou's own words woven together with archival photographs and videos as well as interviews with Angelou's friends and family.
Public Access to free streaming titles:
National Archives: The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African American experience and highlights these resources online, in programs, and through traditional and social media.
African American Women’s History page, part of the Women and Life on Earth website.
Black History Month page, part of the National Geographic Kids website.
Black History Month: Ten Artists You Should Know, part of the Birmingham Museum of Art Black History Month observance.
Curator Picks: Artists to Celebrate This Black History Month (2019), a collection of works compiled for Artsy.net by curators Legacy Russell, Larry Ossei-Mensah, Zoe Whitley, and Ashley James.
Black Art Matters: An anti-racism resource kit to support education, conversation, and action, a collection of resources compiled by imagejournal.org.
Black Art Matters: Why Our Creative Visual Contributions Should Be Valued And Represented More Widely, an article by Tania Inniss for blavity.com.