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Black Artists in Film

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Black Artists in Film

black artists in film

As we mentioned on the blog a few weeks ago, the theme for Black History Month in 2024 is “African Americans and the Arts.” And thanks to Kanopy, you can watch dozens of great documentaries about influential Black artists for free using your Livingston Library card. Check out the recommended titles below, or browse Kanopy’s complete Black History Month collection here. (Descriptions provided by Kanopy.)

sun ra joyful noise 2

Sun Ra – A Joyful Noise (1980, directed by Robert Mugge)

Robert Mugge filmed jazz great Sun Ra on location in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. between 1978 and 1980. The resulting 60-minute film includes multiple public and private performances, poetry readings, a band rehearsal, interviews, and extensive improvisations. Transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and lovingly restored for the best possible viewing experience.

Style Wars: New York Graffiti Art and Breakdancing in the 1980s (1983, directed by Tony Silver)

When Style Wars premiered in 1983, the world received its first full immersion in the phenomenon that had taken over New York City. The urban landscape was physically transformed by graffiti artists who invented a new visual language to express both their individuality, and the voice of their community. In Style Wars, New York’s ramshackle subway system is their public playground, battleground, and spectacular artistic canvas. As MC’s, DJ’s and B-boys rock the city with new sounds and new moves, we see street corner breakdance battles turn into performance art. Winner of Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.

Zora Neale Hurston: Claiming a Space (2023, directed by Tracy Heather Strain)

Zora Neale Hurston has long been considered a literary giant of the Harlem Renaissance, but her anthropological and ethnographic endeavors were equally important and impactful. This is an in-depth biography of the influential author whose groundbreaking anthropological work would challenge assumptions about race, gender and cultural superiority that had long defined the field in the 19th century.

Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People (2014, directed by Thomas Allen Harris)

The first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present, Through a Lens Darkly probes the recesses of American history by discovering images that have been suppressed, forgotten and lost. Bringing to light the hidden and unknown photos shot by both professional and vernacular African American photographers, the film opens a window into lives, experiences and perspectives of black families that is absent from the traditional historical canon. These images show a much more complex and nuanced view of American culture and society and its founding ideals.

basquiat radiant child

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2009, directed by Tamra Davis)

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. However, soon his cult status began to override the art that had made him famous in the first place. Director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend in this definitive documentary, but also delves into Basquiat as an iconoclast. His dense, bebop-influenced neoexpressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions. Much can be gleaned from insider interviews and archival footage, but it is Basquiat’s own words and work that powerfully convey the mystique and allure of both the artist and the man.

A Ballerina’s Tale (2015, directed by Nelson George)

Iconic ballerina Misty Copeland made history when she became the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer of the legendary American Ballet Theater. Get the incredible, behind-the-scenes story of how she overcame a tumultuous upbringing and near career-ending injuries to become one of the most revered dancers of her generation. More than just a ballet success story, Copeland’s journey is a hugely inspirational, universal tale of perseverance.

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959, directed by Bert Stern)

Filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island and directed by world-renowned photographer Bert Stern, Jazz on a Summer’s Day features intimate performances by an all-star line-up of musical legends including Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Anita O’Day, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington, and closes with a beautiful rendition of The Lord’s Prayer by Mahalia Jackson at midnight to usher in Sunday morning.

Joe, Adult Services & Acquisitions

 

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