By: Dec. 05, 2017
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From Friday, February 2 through Sunday, February 18, BAMcinématek presents Fight the Power: Black Superheroes on Film.

Inspired by the release of Disney and Marvel's Black Panther (opening the Steinberg Screen at BAM's Harvey Theater on Friday, February 16), this 28-film series examines an entire alternative cinematic history of black screen heroes who challenged establishment power structures through their sheer existence.

From Blaxploitation icons to supernatural avengers to anti-colonial outlaws, this series spotlights industry-defying images of black heroism and empowerment in films that are as socially and politically subversive as they are downright fun.

Fight the Power is programmed by BAMcinématek Senior Programmer Ashley Clark, who says: "Ryan Coogler's Black Panther is one of the most hotly anticipated blockbusters of the year, and is rightly seen as a new high watermark in the representation of black characters in the fantasy genre. But it is preceded by a rich if under-acknowledged history. Fight the Power: Black Superheroes on Film presents the mythical, fantastical, and groundbreaking icons that laid the path for Black Panther."

The series kicks off with Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song (1971-Feb 2). Van Peebles wrote, directed, and stars in this thriller that follows male prostitute Sweet Sweetback (Peebles) as he dodges police arrest with help from some unconventional accomplices. Fight the Power also features some iconic Blaxploitation films with heroic characters including Cleopatra Jones (1973, Starrett-Feb 3), Foxy Brown (1974, Hill-Feb 3), Shaft (1971, Parks-Feb 4), eccentric rarity Abar: The First Black Superman (1977, Packard-Feb 2) and affectionate spoof BLACK DYNAMITE (2009, Sanders-Feb 6), plus the independent, anti-establishment cult classic The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973, Dixon-Feb 5) and Sidney Poitier's thrilling revisionist Western Buck and the PREACHER (1972, Poitier-Feb 4).

Four series films come straight from the pages of comic books, including selections from the Blade film series, Spawn (1997, Dippe-Feb 6) and Catwoman (2004, Pitof-Feb 17). Based on the Marvel comic book character Blade (Feb 9), the 1998 hit film, written by David S. Goyer and directed by Stephen Norrington, drew a cult following and subsequent film franchise. Wesley Snipes stars as Blade-the half human, half vampire out to avenge his mother's death and rid the world of vampires. In 2002, Guillermo Del Toro directed the sequel, Blade II (Feb 9), wherein Blade (Snipes) joins forces with vampires to combat a new type of deadly monster. Based on the comic book hero of the same name, Spawn, features Michael Jai White as hell's reluctant soldier. And in Catwoman, based on the DC Comic, Halle Berry stars as a shy graphic designer, who, upon discovering a grave industry secret, is killed and reborn with cat-like reflexes.

A selection of films spotlight fantasy and Science fiction heroes. These include Will Smith in Men In Black (1997, Sonnenfeld-Feb 11); Sun Ra in Afrofuturistic odyssey Space Is the Place (1974, Coney-Feb 5); The Brother From Another Planet (1984, Sayles-Feb 16) about a mute extraterrestrial with a gift of technical wizardry who escapes from another planet and ends up in New York; The Meteor Man (1993, Townsend-Feb 11), which tells the story of a schoolteacher who develops superpowers after being struck by a meteor and uses his new found powers to fight crime in his neighborhood; Sleight (2016, J.D. Dillard-Feb 16), a naturalistic film infused with fantastical elements about a street magician; Attack the Block (2011, Cornish-Feb 18) stars John Boyega and is set in a South London invaded by angry aliens; Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000-Feb 17), in which Forest Whitaker plays a hired hitman who lives by the code of the ancient samurai; and Dystopian epic Strange Days (1996, Bigelow-Feb 18) featuring a tough-as-nails Angela Bassett.

Fight the Power also incorporates a few films with unconventional superheroes, including Candyman (1992, Rose-Feb 7), George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968-Feb 7) and Michael Rymer's Queen of the Damned (2002-Feb 13). Candyman's Tony Todd is an anti-hero in a film rich in compelling racial and social commentary. Duane Jones was one of first black actors to play a lead role in a mainstream American horror film, as Ben in Night of the Living Dead. Queen of the Damned, meanwhile, features a stunning turn from late pop icon Aaliyah.

A selection of series films with international flavor include Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998, Ocelot & Burlet-Feb 11), Cannes Grand Jury Prize-winning Yeelen (1987-Feb 17), Besouro (2000, João Daniel Tikhomiroff-Feb 12) and a special screening of Brown Girl Begins (2017, Lewis-Feb 13), an adaptation of the Afrofuturist novel by Nalo Hopkinson, and the first Caribbean-Canadian sci-fi feature film ever made.

Pictured: Robert Townsend in The Meteor Man (1993), photo courtesy of MGM.