The 24th PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival (PAFF) took place again last February, in the middle-class African American enclave of Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw, next to the culturally vibrant Leimert Park, in the South-West of Los Angeles. Now an institution nestled, for good it seems, in a large shopping centre whose hallways offer a space for the stalls of craftsmen, jewellery and clothes designers, textile salesmen from all over the African diaspora, and whose multiplex Rave Theater opens half of its 16 screens to festival offerings. As the selection is getting better and better, the commercial prospects of some of the most daring films is still under question – spectators keep flocking to sold-out screenings of more mainstream US fares – such as Don Cheadle’s unconventional biopic of Miles Davis, Miles Away, haloed by its double premiere at the New York Film Festival in October and at Sundance two weeks before (no press tickets were available for that one!).

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Yet PAFF attracts different kinds of audiences, as the African American communities and their allies are themselves a fractured, motley bunch. For me the festival started on a high note, with a combination screening/panel discussion that investigated moments of black history in Los Angeles that are sometimes neglected. Co-directed by award-nominated voices in progressive documentary, Lyn Goldfarb (a Jew) and Alison Sotomayor (a Latina born in East LA), and narrated by Alfre Woodard (an African American actress) Bridging the Divide: Tom Bradley and the Politics of Race was a bona fide PBS flick designed to remind the millions of us who pass through the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX (Los Angeles Airport) every year that its is named after the only black mayor of Los Angeles (he was also the second African American mayor of a major US city, after Carl Stokes, elected in Cleveland, Ohio in 1967), who was also the longest running mayor in the city, since he stayed in office from 1973 to 1993 (his ratings dropped out after the 1992 post-Rodney King riots). At a panel discussion organised after the screening, the makers and invited guests were proud to reassert that, before the “Yes We Can” Obama 2009 campaign, Bradley had put together a coalition of the willing that “bridged the race divide”, encompassing progressive Jews and Latinos as well as Blacks, which brought and kept him in power for 20 years.

Born in 1917 to poor Texas sharecroppers, the grandson of a slave, in 1940 Bradley joined the Los Angeles police department where his nemesis was the openly racist police chief William H. Parker. He segued into Democratic politics, becoming “the first Negro ever elected to [Los Angeles] City Council.” 1. Bradley knew how to pick his fights: he continued battling racism and police violence under Chief Edward M. Davis, rallied the cause of gay rights, and, to the millions of us who keep bitching when we are stuck in traffic, will be forever remembered as the man who started the slow process that is bringing light rail and, yes, subway, to Los Angeles. To PAFF, Bradley has also a special meaning, as he was one of the first “Negros” to buy a house in Leimert Park that was then a mostly white area (times have changed, since it is now the hub of a vibrant African American culture…).

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As Bradley was on the City Council, another quiet revolution was taking place in Los Angeles. Thanks to a unique affirmative action project, the Ethnocommunication Program, established by assistant professor Eliseo Taylor and a group of student activists, a number of Black students (in addition to Asian American, Chicano and Native American students) were admitted in the Film School at UCLA, and they kept coming, the “elders” (mostly Charles Burnett and Haile Gerima) mentoring the newest arrivals. At UCLA, they discovered an alternative not only to mainstream Hollywood but to the way marginalised communities and their own people were (under/mis)represented on screen, through the classes on neo-realism and Third cinema taught by Taylor and the Ethiopian-born scholar Teshome Gabriel 2 They started working on each other’s films, using the school’s equipment to means that were not strictly curricular. Burnett kept missing graduation requirements so he could stay at UCLA and eventually complete the epoch-making Killer of Sheep in 1977; Gerima borrowed equipment to “shoot a documentary on farmers” in his native Ethiopia and came back with the highly political Harvest 3000 Years (1976); before getting his MFA in 1979, Jamaa Fanaka directed 3 feature films that were commercially released, Emma Mae (1976), Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975) and Penitentiary (1979) etc… The group later called “the LA Rebellion” (the term was coined by African American scholar Clyde Taylor) developed from these seeds, and the “next generation” left their mark as well – Billy Woodberry’s Bless Their Little Hearts (1982) deepening the subtle alliance forged by Killer of Sheep between neo-realist tropes and what Amiri Baraka used to call “the Great Black Music”’; Julie Dash’s Illusions (1982) sharply plunging into issues of “passing” and representation, with a female touch; or exploring African American female identity through mythology and mysticism (Barbara McCullough’s Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification, 1979) or the deconstruction of racist and sexist expectations (Alile Sharon Larkin’s A different Image, 1982).

The PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival 2016

Zeinabu Davis & Andy Rice; shooting Charles Burnett’s interview. Photo: Maazi Chery

From October to December 2011, the UCLA Film & Television Archive paid homage to the School’s prestigious graduates by organising the first comprehensive exhibition of their film, including a number of prints restored by the Archive, and accompanied by a catalogue 3 Not a simple academic/scholarly/cinephilic event, the whole series was a celebration. Gabriel, who had died the year before, was sorely missed and fondly remembered. Fanaka, who was to die a year later, enchanted everyone with his irreverent humour. All panel discussions were dutifully recorded by Zeinabu Irene Davis, one of the younger members of the LA Rebellion (she graduated from a MFA in Film and Television Production with her thesis film, the experimental Cycles, from UCLA in 1989) and her DP/collaborator Andy Rice, who also conducted interviews of the participants and gathered additional insights, anecdotes, and critical points of view on the movement. Juggling academic duties (she is a Professor at UCSD), motherhood and filmmaking, and faced with the chronic funding issues that has affected most of the L.A. Rebellion alums in their later years, David finally premiered Spirits of the Rebellion, a heartfelt, precisely documented, insider’s exploration of what these films have meant and continue to mean not only to the PanAfrican community but for our modernity as film viewers. And here and there, a subtle, humorous, intimate touch. How Gabriel introduced her to the two most important men in her life, her long-time DP Pierre Désir and her husband Marc Chery – how the sisters related to the brothers in the editing room, was there sexism there? – the critical, yet often unsung role, of the Asian American, Chicano and Native American in the movement…

The PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival 2016

And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead

To celebrate the event, PAFF organised a panel discussion, followed by a screening of another long-awaited film, Billy Woodberry’s first feature since Bless Their Little Hearts. A labour of love, and the product of many years of research, And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead, the scholarly-yet-impressionist portrait of the Beat and Surrealist poet Bob Kaufman (1925-86) who had moved to San Francisco’s North Beach in 1958 and hung out in Café Trieste with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, John Kelly, A. D. Winans, and William Margolis – with whom he founded the magazine Beatitude. Yet, in the history of American letters, Kaufman is not as widely known as Ginsberg, Kelly or Burroughs. He is actually more respected in Europe, especially in France, where Pierre Bernard, the editor of the influential Cahiers de l’Herne, had some of his work translated and published in the No 9 issue published in 1968 and titled Burroughs – Pélieu – Kaufman – Texts. The editorial described Kaufman as “one of the greatest poets of the beat movement”. There he had a real following, was called the “American Rimbaud”, which was a way to respect his genius but also consecrating him as another poète maudit. (It is also to be noted that Woodberry’s film has a Portuguese producer.) So why isn’t Kaufman better known in the US? Is it because he was a street poet, more involved in reciting his work, in the grand oral tradition, than publishing it? Because he is quoted as having said: “I want to be anonymous, I want to be completely unknown. I want to be buried in a crater of the moon.”? Because he was often homeless, sometimes in jail, constantly persecuted by the police? Because, having been a member of the National Maritime Union (NMU) during his seafaring days, he was more deeply, more disturbingly political than many of his fellow beats? Because he was born dirt-poor in New Orleans? Because he was the self-proclaimed son of a German Jew and a black woman from Martinique? Rather than intuiting “all of the above”, Woodberry’s film, especially when seen in context of the LA Rebellion, brings up a complex dialectic between blackness and invisibility, imposed erasure and voluntary silence.

Woodberry splits his film in half, and after a first evocation of Kaufman in San Francisco, through a variety of witnesses and documents, reboots his attempt at biography with the following title: Most of what was known of Bob Kaufman’s life and biography was shrouded in myth and legend. Serious scholarly research… didn’t begin until the 1980s. Then after a brief segue through academic talking heads, another title, Before the Beats, brings us to New Orleans, to the remaining members of his family (he was one of 14 children), living in a neighbourhood filled with boarded-up post-Katrina wooden houses.

Kaufman’s life in North Beach had started with his love story with a white woman, Eileen Singe, with whom he had a son, Parker (as an homage to Charlie), and who, even after they split in 1977, tirelessly dedicated herself to the publication and the preservation of his work. Singe (who died in 2015) does not appear in the film, but the first part is mostly recounted by white witnesses. Kaufman’s life in New Orleans, marked by a strong mother enamoured with music, ended when he joined the US Merchant Marine at 18, in 1942. As a member of the NMU, he was one of the organisers of a major strike mobilisation in New York, along with first wife, Ida Berrocal, a free-spirited, articulate light-skinned black woman whom Woodberry tracked down and interviewed for the film. Together they had a daughter, Antoinette, whom, later, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) reconnect with. One of the most radical (and even Marxist) unions in the US, the NMU was also singular for having the Jamaican-born Ferdinand Smith elected to the position of Secretary Treasurer, and a significant African-American, Caribbean and immigrant membership, at a time when segregation was still the rule. After the war, the establishment retorted by agitating the spectre of the Red Scare, executing the Rosenberg and opposing the hiring of left-wing militants in the Merchant Marine as constituting “poor security risk”. Woodberry excavated the files created on Kaufman by the FBI who, from then on, kept him under constant surveillance. Along with 2,000 members of the SMU, he was denied access to any US port and not allowed to sail.

Woodberry quotes commentators who argue that, faced with the repression art became an outlet for many African Americans: bebop for Charlie Parker, poetry for Kaufman. Yet art itself carried the impossibility to speak, or even the desire to remain silent – as evidenced by Parker’s troubled life, or, more literally, in the case of Kaufman, the vow of silence he took after the assassination of JFK and kept for ten years, until the end of the Vietnam War in 1973. For a poet prone to reciting his verses, this was a terrible, double-edged weapon. This is, however, where Kaufman’s fate overlaps with that of the “LA Rebellion” filmmakers, who have often preferred not to make films for years rather than crank “black sitcoms” or perpetrate another “gangsta” flick. Here the desire for visibility abuts against a keen refusal to participate in the “society of the spectacle”, to become commodified. You want to speak and give voice to those who have been silenced; you no longer want you and your people to be “the invisible men”; yes, but not at any price. There is nobility in refusal. Bob Kaufman’s life, in its creative messiness, and Billy Woodberry’s cinema, in its rigorous and ethical elegance, articulate a similar dilemma.

The PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival 2016

LA Rebellion Filmmakers group shot, November 2011, at the LA Rebellion retrospective, UCLA. Photo: D. Andy Rice

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The dilemma of visibility versus invisibility was also experienced in the colonial situation, where the only cinematic gaze was that of the “master”. In Africa, the former colonial subjects have long learnt how to use the camera themselves, but using the Master’s tools (Western film language) could also lead to another form of colonisation. Every year PAFF provides us with a way of exploring new forms through which the continent seeks self-representation. Many of these films, we know, will not be exhibited commercially outside of their own countries – if even there, since distribution networks are still, for the majority, in the hands of Western corporations. In the US, events like PAFF provide a resonance chamber, and, from this point of view the regular presence and participation of a sister organisation should be mentioned. Founded by the couple Reinaldo Barroso-Spech (a native of Cuba with Haitian and Jamaican roots) and Diarah N’Daw-Spech (who is French and Malian), the New York-based ArtMattan Productions founded the African Diaspora Film Festival (ADFF) in 1993, while continuing its mission to “distribute films that focus on the human experience of black people in Africa, the Caribbean, North and South America and Europe”. 4. This year, one of their films won a Special Jury Prize for Documentary at PAFF (I unfortunately missed it): Thierry Michel and Colette Braekman’s L’homme qui répare les femmes – La Colère d’Hippocrate (The Man Who Mends Women – The Wrath of Hyppocrates, Belgium/Congo), a portrait of Dr Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist fighting against the ravages of sexual violence in war-torn Congo.

The PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival 2016

Fièvres

A 2015 FESPACO winner, the second film presented by ArtMattan Productions, Hicham Ayouch’s Fièvres (Fevers, France/Morocco/UAE/Qatar), powerfully anchored in the devouring rage, the “fever”, of a teenage boy, was an almost experimental, disturbing take on the malaise of displacement, immigration and hybridity. Shot entirely in the outskirts of Paris, it follows the wanderings of 13 year-old Benjamin (Didier Michon), who sees only one way out of foster home: reconnecting with his biological father, Karim (Slimane Dazi), a depressed loser who, past 40, still lives with his parents. Benjamin’s mother – now in gaol – is white, possibly a sex worker (“only a whore would sleep with an Arab” shouts Benjamin, in one of his most endearing moments) and her dalliance with Karim was no storybook love affair. In brief, Benjamin hates himself for being the product of their encounter, hates his father and grandparents for being Moroccans, and dangles his rage in the hallways, corridors and wastelands of the projects, tagging walls that Karim has to force him to wipe clean to counter the neighbours’ noisy remonstrance. Soon becoming a holy terror, even threatening his family with a knife, Benjamin only finds solace in the company of a semi-homeless black man, Claude (Tony Harrison), who lives in a trailer and a poetic, magical world of his own. Here the film takes off in the direction of a harsh, yet potent, form of surrealism, then delves further into the psyche of the protagonists. The three generations of the family harbour secrets: a small-scale model of the house left behind (or imagined) in Morocco for the grandfather; the memory of a misspent youth for Karim, who not only begot a child without being aware of it, but also stole a motorcycle and caused an accident that turned his beloved brother, Heikel, into a physical and mental cripple. And then things turn out to be not what they seem, as in an extraordinary scene in which the building’s caretaker, Nounours (“Teddy Bear”) (Pascal Elso), appears at a neighbourhood party in full drag, revealing to all what he had kept hidden; more than a provocation, the moment has the allure of a dream, of some irrational eruption – as if chaos had leapt from Benjamin’s heart to his surroundings…. Or maybe it was the opposite: his violence and anger were an inverted mirror of a dysfunctional situation – the plight of the immigrant population still marginalised in France, of the second and third generation of children, of the mixed-race heirs of the country’s fraught colonial past, who are struggling to find a place in the society where they live.

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In their catalogue, the founders of ArtMattan neatly distinguish between “Titles from Continental Africa”, “Collaboration Africa and the West”, “Black Europe”, “Black USA/Canada”, etc. Directed by two Belgians, The Man Who Mends Women belongs to the second category. The issue of self-representation is multi-layered, sometimes benefiting from the gaze of an Other, through a series of approximations, retouching, reframing, retorting. One of the best examples at PAFF was the exhilarating Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise (Germany), shot, directed and edited by Volker Shaner over a 15 year period. A legend in his own terms, Perry, who never appears without colourful clothes, hair dye, make-up and hats, outrageous wigs, gaudy jewelry, plumes or gold masks, is mostly known as one of the pioneers and kings of Dub (a subgenre of reggae that creatively uses the mixing console and revolutionised the world of popular music), as the founder/owner/grand architect of the home-made studio, the Ark, in which he produced Bob Marley’s first records. But also as the man who claimed he burnt the Ark to the ground himself, in a feat of rage, after his split with Marley – who is unpredictable, cryptic, peppery, eccentric, mystical – a sage who reveres Haile Selassie as the Rastafari messiah and dabbles in Afrofuturism – a holy fool who calls himself a fish and says human being are cannibals – one of the authentic musical geniuses of our times who has known many reversals of fortune yet bounced back, recorded as a vocalist for the Beastie Boys, became a multiple Grammy-award winner and now lives, far away from Jamaica and Ethiopia where Shaner’s camera had followed him, in Switzerland.

The film would not have been possible without the long-standing friendship of the two men – Perry is credited as producer – and to capture the extravagant, yet mysterious quality of the musician’s mind, his “vision of paradise”, a third collaborator was brought in, the Romanian painter Maria Sargarodschi. She and Perry made large-scale paintings together, and, in permanent dialogue with him, she created the fairy-tale animation sequences that give the film its outwordly dimension, straying from the confines of the “biopic” or the “documentary”: faux-naif, colourful drawings of lions, snakes, tigers, ostriches, elephants (a real “Ark”), flowers, the sun and the moon, a blue horse galloping, a talking spider, prophets in the sky, fresco-like religious imageries, scenes of fire and devastation with blue men running away in horror, a drawing of the man himself, a presentation of his painting studio… an enchantment.

The PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival 2016

Sweet Micky for President

Ben Patterson’s Sweet Micky for President (USA) is another complex collaboration between a white filmmaker from an industrialised country and the African diaspora. The insider’s voice, in this case, is an American rapper of Haitian descent, Pras Michel, co-founder (with Lauryn Hill) of the Grammy award-winner hip-hop band Fugees (1994-2007). A former psychology and philosophy major at Rutgers and Yale, active in issues of homelessness and immigration in the US, as well as in Haitian politics, Pras, who wrote the story of the film, credits himself for having thought of one of the best scenarios of politic-fiction of late: in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake that had ravaged Haiti, he convinced the compas 5 musician Michel Martelli to run for President in 2010. On stage, Martelli, known as “Sweet Micky”, is a really bad boy, venting his political anger via obscenities and strong language, showing his ass, grabbing his crotch, wearing diapers or pink bras. Politically he is no chorus boy, having had ties with former Duvalier supporters and supported the coup against Aristide in 1991 – which caused him to have to go into exile for a while after Aristide’s first return in 1995. As a businessman, he is poised, wearing suits and ties, made and lost millions in nightclub and real estate. “Michel Martelli the presidential candidate is not Sweet Micky”, he said in one press conference.

The film follows, up, close and personal, Martello’s campaign, that took place in a chaos both joyful and horrifying. At first Martelli and Pras travel together, running the show as they know how: as entertainment, with music, dancing, parties and inflammatory speeches that barely concealed the lack of program. Pras decided then to hire a (white) campaign manager, and things became serious, with posters, T-shorts and the outline of a platform that included taking care of the impoverished peasantry (Martelli’s party being called Respons Peyizan (Farmers’ Response) and the reinstatement of the military that had been abolished by Aristide; Martelli didn’t say whether this was inspired by Mao Zedung’s favouring the alliance “like a fish in water” between soldiers and peasants, but, considering Haiti’s troubled history of military coups, this was disturbing to some). Then, halfway through, Pras has to switch from insider to outsider, being kicked out of Martelli’s team after some rhetorical flourish on television that involved the threat to cut people’s head. He had to watch the circus from afar, as one of the candidates running against Martelli, Jude Célestin, was forced to withdraw on allegations of fraud, as – trahison! – his own cousin, Wyclef Jean, the third member of Fuguees, announced his candidature, as Aristide himself returned from exile for adoring crowds two days before the election. In the run-off, pitted against the veteran politician Mirlande Manigat, Sweet Micky won…. (At the time PAFF was taking place, on 10 February, we heard news that Martelli had resigned, following accusations of corruptions and violent demonstrations against him. In Haiti, the more things change, the more they remain the same.)

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And then there were the dozens of films made in Africa by Africans – about which I hope to be able to do justice in a later article – and from which we have much to learn. And when I say “we” I mean those of us – black, white, Asian, Latino etc.… – who live in Europe, Australia or North America, and didn’t spend our childhood waking up to the powerful scent of the red earth or the sweet shadow of the mango tree; who didn’t experience, in our flesh and our psyche, the clash and the fractured hybridity between traditional values and imported colonial tropes; who didn’t walk on bare feet on a dirt trail in the bush or the dirty back alley of a township; who didn’t experiment to merge a post-industrial form of expression like cinema with the magic of oral story-telling passed down from the ancestors.

The PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival 2016

Aisha

A world premiere, Chande Omar’s Aisha (Tanzania) owes much to the soulful performance of Godliver Gordan who inhabits the title role with nuance and complexity, completely transforming herself physically in the process. In the beginning we have an elegant businesswoman who runs a successful pharmacy with her husband in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. They are a very normal couple, sometimes affectionate, sometimes bickering, sometimes distant. When she announces she’s going back to her native village to attend her sister’s wedding, he says he has no taste for country life, these people bore him, he will drive her, drop her, and then pick her back a few days later.

At home, Aisha tries to understand why her bright younger sister, Miriam, has finally accepted not to complete her studies and contract an arranged marriage with a young man from a good family she does not care much about. “It’s because you didn’t ask me to come and live with you in the city”, say Miriam. Guilt. Then she runs into her former high school suitor, the owner of an auto repair shop who, married to a woman he can’t stand, still carries a torch for her. A modern Aisha, after sweetly rejecting him once more, sees nothing wrong to a walk in the countryside “for old times’ sake”. What awaits her, instead, is a brutal gang rape. Found unconscious by Miriam, Aisha, her face bloody and bruised, decides, against family pressure, to press charges. The police won’t help. Miriam’s new in-laws force their son to repudiate a woman who comes from a now-sullied family. One of the rapists, a young employee of the auto shop, who had participated in the deed under pressure from his boss, becomes remorse-stricken after the death of his grandmother, a strong woman he respected, and confesses it all.

At the judicial hearing in front of the elders, Aisha realises that her own brother has, too, been involved in a retaliatory gang rape. This is the way things are done, in the village, to keep women in check. But village life is not the only thing at stake. When Aisha’s husband comes to collect her, upon learning what happens, he assumes that she was asking for it. “What do you think you were doing, walking in the dark with a former lover? You take me for a fool?” In a few minutes, the marriage is over. Aisha collapses in Miriam’s arms: “I loved him so much!” Who was the feminist who said that the strength of men rests on the love women have for them? But love, and love of women for other women, is also the strength of women.

The PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival 2016

Necktie Youth

Necktie Youth (South Africa/Netherlands), Sibs Shongwe-La Mer’s first feature, is an unusual, black-and-white, moody exploration of a new generation of rebels without a cause in post-Apartheid South Africa. Elegant panning’s on the grounds and inside a villa in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. In the garden, a black man tends the lawn; in the kitchen two black female servants wearing headdresses; a young girl’s voiceover, addressing an absent friend, talks about taking pills, conflicts with her mother, psychiatrisation, then asks for a phone call, that we’ll guess will never come. From afar, we see a white girl crossing the garden, carrying a folding chair. In a close-up, she ties a rope to a tree branch. Then she hangs herself. Cut to a camera on a tripod, which has captured the whole scene. The two black gardeners rush to the rescue and cut the rope. A male voice that takes the narration over from then on, explains that the girl was called Emily, and this happened on the 37th anniversary of the Soweto Youth Uprising of 16 June, 1976. Then we segued onto shots of downtown “Joburg”, a city that has “changed a lot” and used to be “very nice” but now is “shit.” September, the narrator (played by the 23 year-old director) and all his friends live in the northern suburbs and never set a foot downtown. They have too much money, too much time, drink too much, consume controlled substances, and for them the end of the Apartheid means that they can party, romance, sleep and have threesomes with white girls. Emily was one of these girls; as she streamed her own suicide on the internet, her idle friends are left trying to decipher the why, or rather the “nothingness” that eventually engulfed her.

What sets Necktie Youth apart is its style: the loose narrative structure (a series of chapters linked together by memories of Emily and the boozing, pill-popping and sexual adventures of Jabz (Bonko Cosmo Khoza) and his best friend the narrator) is intercut with almost still images of suburban landscapes, and beautiful young people exquisitely shot by Chuanne Blofield. This constant counterpoint, punctuated by September’s delivery, between meditative shots and the sometimes ludicrous, sometimes cynical, sometimes romantic, interactions between the young protagonists, creates a texture of mystery: what is hidden between these too-beautifully-composed images? Something is amiss, “Joburg” cannot stand the sight of itself as this island of successful, soulless capitalism in the midst of a continent where some children still go hungry and can’t afford to go to school. Here the problem is to decide which “uni” to apply to for next year, which party to go tonight, which dealer is going to give you the best stuff, and which warm body to lie next to. The one criticism I would make is that, in this interracial/sexual exchange of rich kids, young black women are strangely under-represented. White Jewish girls talk openly about uncircumcised black cocks, black guys make no mystery about the hold that a blond head of hair and a white pussy have on them; white guys hang out with the bunch; black girls seem to be left out of this erotic economy.

Still, Necktie Youth, directed by a young black man (a fact that is still rare in South African cinema where even “black stories” are often directed by white people), opens a new door in the country’s cinema – miles ahead from the social realism or political advocacy that mainstream spectators expect from it. Instead of seeing, as did some of my colleagues, Necktie Youth as another tedious movie about messed-up kids, I read it instead as a sign of aesthetic maturity, and can’t wait to see what Shongwe-La Mer will do next.

PanAfrican Film and Arts Festival
4-15 February, 2016
Festival website: https://www.paff.org

 

Endnotes

  1. Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1963, A-2
  2. Teshome Gabriel (1939-2010) received a Master’s degree in Theatre Arts in 1976, a PhD in Film and Television Studies in 1979, and started lecturing at UCLA in 1974. He became an Assistant Professor in 1981 and taught at UCLA until his death. He is the author, among other words, of the classic Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetics of Liberation, Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982.
  3. L.A. Rebellion. Creating a New Black Cinemahttps://www.cinema.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/LARebellionCatalog2.pdf, retrieved 23 May, 2016; later a companion book of the same title was published, edited by the three curators of the program, Allyson Field, Jan-Christopher Horak and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).
  4. Site of ArtMattan Productions: http://www.africanfilm.com/home.html, accessed 25 May, 2016
  5. A modern updating of the traditional string-based Haitian music called Méringue, compas or kompa is an extremely popular music form in the Caribbean and Africa as well as the black diaspora in Portugal, France and parts of Latin and North America.