If, in the world of film and cinema, you start digging under the surface, towards the layers slightly beneath the discourses of current affairs, you might come across an astonishing phenomenon.
Amidst media hyper-production, an acute void of images can be discovered, which relates like an echo to the empty archives of museums and the extinguished biographies in the “Afterlife of Slavery”;
the very field that Christina Sharpe and Saidiya Hartman are researching. Of course, there are a number of classics in film history dealing with the topic:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Edward S. Porter, USA, 1903), Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, USA, 1939), Sankofa (Haile Gerima, Burkina Faso/Ghana/Germany/USA/UK, 1993),
Quilombo (Carlos Diegues, Brazil 1984), Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, USA 1991), 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, USA, 2013), to mention just a few, ignoring here the controversial issues which surround them, such as their narrative perspectives, “black-facing” or depiction of bodies. Different from films dealing with the Holocaust, for example, productions depicting the afterlife of slavery in Africa and the Black diaspora remain rare exceptions. As much as using a mere quantitative comparison can be misleading, the effects of the same are far-reaching, as existing image production seems to haul more image production.
This is in contrast to productions from Africa and the Black diaspora, for with certain notable exceptions, films with African topics or Black protagonists are considered box-office poison by distributors and ratings killers by the commissioning editors of TV stations. This is not only the case in Germany. It goes without saying that not all films with this background necessarily deal with the afterlife of slavery, yet their overall scarcity in our cinemas and TV schedules enhances the dynamics. Along with the penetration of globalization, there has been an ever-greater paucity of media visualization of the realities of Black lives in Africa and the diaspora, just as the visibility of Black/African film professionals is in decline.
When trying to analyse the problem and seeking responsibilities, it is easy to get trapped in a swirl of conspiracy theories and finger-pointing – at ignorant audiences, racist curators, colour-blind juries. Behind closed doors and with a hand over their mouths, Western experts might even apologetically express their concerns over “deficiencies in professionalism” when it comes to Black/African filmmaking; the uproar following the #oscarsowhite debate in 2016 was extremely insightful in this context. But why is it so difficult to find ways out of this dilemma? Maybe because the absence of imagery is at the same time cause and effect? Underneath the obvious, it seems that the lack of images does indeed cause the imagination’s failure to evoke curiosity and generate interest to see more. It is a vicious circle: the German audience is generally not really in synch with present-day African lives, so consequently African films – if they get a theatrical release at all – are very hard to sell, which is why distributors in turn shy away from any opportunities. Moreover, when it comes to depicting the realities of Black lives, the expectations are suffocating, and thus the escape routes for anyone trying to break away are very narrow and burdened by resentments.
In association with the performances ABSENCE. THE AFTERLIFE OF SLAVERY AND THE GAPS OF THE ARCHIVE, the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss and Mobile Academy Berlin is presenting three films: a documentary and two features. They depict the aftermath of slavery – in individual biographies, in the present day, in contemporary history. The screenings begin with short personal introductions by individuals who have a special relationship to each film. The idea is to look for and discover obvious or hidden traces between the three films and the larger context.
SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT, Spike Lee, USA 1986
VIDEO INTRO: RICO SPEIGHT
The young and extremely attractive Nola Darling gets out of bed, a place where, according to her roommate, too many men find shelter. In the course of this comedy, we get to know three of the current admirers buzzing around Nola like bees around a honey pot. They are Greer, a vain model-cum-actor, conventional Jamie on the outlook for a wife, and buffoon Mars, played by Spike Lee himself. Different as they are, the three men have one thing in common: they are each convinced they can provide the best solution for Nola’s quest in life. But as Nola herself repeatedly explains directly to the camera – and hence to us, the audience – she doesn’t want to be owned by any of these men, nor indeed by any other. That’s a challenging set-up for this modern woman and the rather possessive men around her.
Immediately after its release, this debut movie by Spike Lee became known as a landmark film which heralded the era of New Black Cinema in the USA. With its all-black cast, its humour and its political messages – which are obvious but never foregrounded – the film greatly changed the perception of Brooklyn and its emerging black middle class in the 1980s. Thirty years later, Spike Lee adapted the original film into a series of ten episodes for Netflix, which will be launched this year for Thanksgiving – a decisive date for the film’s narrative.
In cooperation with HIT and RUN Pop-Up-Cinema.
Rico Speight, based in New York, has a diversified career in directing, writing and producing for film, theatre and television. His documentary 'Whose Gonna Take the Weight' (1999) portrays young Afro-Americans and South Africans around the fall of Apartheid was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. 2010 and 2013 he directed a multi-media theatrical presentation of Aime Cesaire’s 'A Season in the Congo'. Speight is currently producing a feature documentary on Frantz Fanon, the revolutionary psychiatrist, philosopher, and political theorist.
Free admission, no registration required
30.11.2017, 9pm, meeting point: S Jannowitzbrücke, please follow the signs
KILLER OF SHEEP, Charles Burnett, USA 1977
VIDEO INTRO: CHRISTINA SHARPE
Stan lives with his wife and daughter in Watts, a district of South Los Angeles populated mainly by African-Americans. He is a sensitive dreamer tormented by his job at a slaughterhouse, where he disembowels dead sheep. Frustrated by money problems, Stan finds respite in moments of simple beauty in his family life: the warmth of a coffee cup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife in the living room, holding his daughter. The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life – sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with contagious joy and gentle humour.
Charles Burnett’s thesis film at UCLA, shot on weekends in 1977 with a minimal budget, is a rarely seen masterpiece of American film history.
Its rough, empathetic documentary quality has drawn comparisons to Italian neorealism, while others see the influence of John Cassavetes’ Shadows,
and Burnett himself names Jean Renoir as his role model. In 1981 the film was introduced to an international audience at the International Forum of the Berlinale;
in 1990 it was named one of the fifty titles in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Recently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive,
KILLER OF SHEEP can now be seen on screen again, three decades after its creation. Every grainy black-and-white shot contains so much affection, so much authenticity, so much poetry and dedication that the film remains an inspiration.
Christina Sharpe is professor of English at Tufts University. Her work is concerned with Black visual studies,
African-American literature and culture, Black queer studies, and Black diaspora studies.
She is the author of two monographs on the afterlife of slavery in contemporary culture and society:
Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being.
01.12.2017, 8pm, Wolf Kino (Weserstraße 59, 12045 Berlin)
Free admission, please RSVP (until Nov. 30)
FOR AHKEEM, Jeremy S. Levine, Landon Van Soest, USA 2017
VIDEO INTRO : JIMMIE EDWARDS
Daje is seventeen, and just as unruly and caught up in her own thoughts as others of her age the world over. We only realize her future hangs in the balance when we see her go to juvenile court with her mother; having been expelled from school for rebelliousness, she has just one last chance to get her life back on track. Yet the true gravity of her situation only gradually becomes clear – such as when we see the many names of her friends written on her notebook followed by R.I.P. and a recent date, or when Daje talks to her boyfriend about whether she – or he – might also die that young.
FOR AHKEEM explores the cosmos of a young black woman in St. Louis, Missouri, not far from Ferguson, the city where Michael Brown was shot in August 2014. The film adheres to a strictly personal perspective in order to recount her upbringing in today’s United States and show the predetermined paths open to her – lined as they are with barricaded brick buildings. But it also reveals Daje’s talent at avoiding the pitfalls of being either a victim or a model student, while evolving into the impressive protagonist of a documentary film that depicts her complicated life more in the style of a poignant feature than a social reportage.
Jimmie Edwards, Judge at the Judicial Circuit of Missouri, St. Louis, is a ‚side character' in "For Akheem" - with key influence on the film's protagonist Daje. Edwards himself was raised by a single mother on St. Louis gang-ridden violent North Side. Familiar with issues surrounding urban crime, he founded the ‚Innovative Concept Academy' in 2009, an experimental school as a last resort for wayward teenagers. Edward's efforts have gained national attention, he has been e.g. featured in a TED talk, “Encouraging the Incorrigible — Smart on Crime.”
02.12.2017, 8pm, Villa Elisabeth (Invalidenstraße 3, 10115 Berlin)
Free admission, please RSVP (until Dec. 1).
A production by Mobile Academy Berlin, coproduced and organized by the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss, made possible thanks to the representative of the Federal Ministry for Culture and Media.