BLACK 90S: A TURNING POINT IN AMERICAN CINEMA Announced At BAM
From Friday, May 3 through Wednesday, May 22, BAM presents Black 90s: A Turning Point in American Cinema, a nearly three week-long program of films, both low-budget art films and classic blockbusters, from an era of explosive creativity and newfound studio support for black filmmakers.
The 1990s witnessed a historic number of films made by African-American directors who blazed new aesthetic pathways and who created touchstone works that continue to inspire contemporary filmmakers. Bringing together popular hits and unsung gems, this expansive series surveys the rich variety of genres and styles-from indie drama to comedy to romance to noir to queer cinema-upon which black filmmakers left their mark, making crucial strides in a fight for more complex representation that continues today.
The series opens with a focus on the 1990s work of trailblazing filmmakers from the LA Rebellion, a generation of artists who studied at UCLA and created a black alternative to classical Hollywood. Opening night kicks off with Charles Burnett's To Sleep with Anger (1990), a poetic realist masterpiece that weaves strains of black folklore, surrealism, and macabre comedy, with a mesmerizing performance by Danny Glover. It screens with a new 35mm print of Burnett's short film When It Rains (1995), and will be followed by a Q&A with Burnett. Other films include Zeinabu Irene Davis' innovative, century-spanning parallel romances in Compensation (1999); LA Rebellion leader Haile Gerima's time-traveling portrait of the horrors of slavery and the power of revolt, Sankofa (1993); and Julie Dash's dreamy evocation of early-20th-century Gullah life and black womanhood, Daughters of the Dust (1991).
The series continues with a new restoration of multimedia artist Cauleen Smith's long-unseen Drylongso (1998), a black feminist murder mystery-buddy movie-romance, screening with the short Fragrance (Abel-Bey, 1991); Kasi Lemmons' atmospheric Southern Gothic melodrama Eve's Bayou (1997), screening with Dreadlocks and the Three Bears (Larkin, 1991); Maya Angelou's only film as a director, the portrait of black Southern family life, Down in the Delta (1998); and Leslie Harris' indie cult classic Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992).
The series will also highlight queer classics of the era, including Stephen Winter's searing satire of government apathy towards the AIDS crisis, Chocolate Babies (1997), screening with the fantasy short Anemone Me (1990), co-directed by Bruce Hainley and celebrated playwright Suzan-Lori Parks; The Watermelon Woman (1996), Cheryl Dunye's watershed New Queer Cinema exploration of black lesbian identity and the history of black women in Hollywood; A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde (Griffin & Parkerson, 1995), a portrait of the remarkable feminist thinker, screening with the short Black Nations/Queer Nations? (Frilot, 1995); and Marlon Riggs' final feature Black Is... Black Ain't (1994) and his short Anthem (1991), both screening as part of an event co-presented with BAM Humanities, Essex Hemphill: Remembering and Reimagining.
Black 90s not only celebrates the independents and art films of the decade, but also blockbusters and popular classics that shaped culture. Music is the star in video auteur Hype Williams' Manhattan-set dancehall reggae drama, Belly (1998), starring Nas and DMX; the great hip-hop film Juice (Dickerson, 1992), starring Tupac in his first major film role, with a soundtrack composed by Naughty By Nature, Eric B. & Rakim, Too Short, and Cypress Hill; infectious hip-hop time capsule House Party (Hudlin, 1990); and Robert Townsend's Motown-inspired star-is-born drama The Five Heartbeats (1991).
Social issues come to the fore in the critique of rampant Reagan-era capitalism, New Jack City (Van Peebles, 1991); the award-winning slice-of-life neorealism of the Red Hook-set Straight Out of Brooklyn (Rich, 1991); the Hughes brothers' operatic and shattering Menace II Society (1993); and the hood drama sui generis, John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood (1991), screening with the stirring spoken word short Why Am I a Threat? (Perry, 1993). Connecting these films to a Hollywood history that erased black actors and filmmakers are two stylish neo-noirs: Bill Duke's hardboiled adaptation of crime writer Chester Himes' A Rage in Harlem (1991) and Carl Franklin's sophisticated detective film Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), with Denzel Washington as novelist Walter Mosley's gumshoe Easy Rawlins.
Comedy and romance also play a prominent role in the series, with the stoner comedy that gifted the world "Bye, Felicia," Friday (Gray, 1995); an underrated Eddie Murphy vehicle, the subtly subversive battle-of-the-sexes Boomerang (Hudlin, 1992); a 20th-anniversary screening of Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee's classic The Best Man (1999); Bébé's Kids (Smith, 1992), the first mainstream animated feature made expressly for black audiences; and Chappelle's Show director Rusty Cundieff's gangsta rap Spinal Tap, Fear of a Black Hat (1993). John Singleton's Poetic Justice (1993), starring Tupac and Janet Jackson, and the smart, sexy Chicago-set romantic comedy Love Jones (Witcher, 1997) both present tender visions of black love. The series showcases the great female stars of the era (and today) with Set It Off (Gray, 1996)-starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise-and the woman-power mega-hit Waiting to Exhale (Whitaker, 1995), starring Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Lela Rochon. There will also be a special program celebrating the similar moment black creators experienced in 90s television.
The series concludes with three classics by Brooklyn cinematic ambassador Spike Lee: one of his most complex and virtuosic works, his furious-sad response to the early 90s cycle of hood movies, Clockers (1995); the explosive New York drama of sex, drugs, and interracial romance, Jungle Fever (1991), for which Samuel L. Jackson won a special Best Supporting Actor award at Cannes; and a 25th anniversary screening of Lee's masterful evocation of pre-gentrification Bed-Stuy, Crooklyn (1994).