Menelik Shabazz was a gentle and strong man whose generosity and vision genuinely inspired. He educated us all with his films and encouraged us to explore different strands of the lived experience of black people in the UK.

– Nicole-Rachelle Moore, cultural and educational consultant

News of the passing of Menelik Shabazz was received by me with great shock. It was particularly so because I recently became aware that he was currently shooting a film in Zimbabwe, where he has been living for some time. At this moment, I would like to remember a filmmaker who was one of a group who embarked on careers in the film industry during the 1970s, determined to make films against the odds. Inspired by the Black struggles in Britain for social justice, Shabazz was one of those motivated to claim an independent space within the film industry, without apology. In this, I collaborated with him on Step Forward Youth (1977), Burning An Illusion (1981) and Blood Ah Goh Run (1982). Along with Henry Martin, we set up Kuumba Production, and provided a base for the formation of Ceddo Film & Video Workshop. With the same inspiration, Shabazz went on to establish Black Filmmaker magazine, the BFM International Film Festival and to produce and direct his films that followed, to the present with his current project in Zimbabwe. This body of work is now part of a legacy that will no doubt further inspire those who share the same determination. My condolence to his family, and may his journey be easy.

– Imruh Bakari, filmmaker, poet, writer and academic

Burning an Illusion (1981) poster

You chose me to play a character (Pat, Burning an Illusion) who was unlike me in every way, and as a young actor, you made me work harder than I had ever worked to create and to collaborate with you to bring her to life. I asked you years later, “why me?”, and you said, “it was about your mind, your ideas, and your ability to bring an energy to the role that as a man I did not possess.” We had pitched battles in rehearsals, and as you sometimes put it “agree to disagree.” 

Over the years we continued to argue passionately about everything from gender, to race, to class, to the collaborative process, and the nature of a prescriptive politics that dictated how black women should think, speak, and dress; who we should love, how to love and who to hate, about radicalism and mysticism, and what it was to be essentially black in a world where only essentialism and whiteness had a place. We fell out over all that and more. But more than that, we never had the chance to reacquaint to reconcile, to forgive, to laugh it all off and to be friends again. For that I am deeply sorry. If we could have spoken one last time I would have said thank you at least for choosing me as a collaborator in making reality out of illusion. I would have thanked you for giving me the chance to create the role of Pat in what is now an iconic feature film of Black British cinema. And I think we would’ve finally laughed and agree that all our past arguments, our past agreements and disagreements were not in vain.
 
Walk good with the ancestors, Shabazz. You have gone but will never be forgotten. x Cassie 

– Cassie McFarlane, actor, writer 

Reflections on an Incomparable Giant: Menelik’s passing is an inestimable loss to Britain and especially to those young people, black and white, who have to build a future Britain together. The Steve McQueen ‘Small Axe’ series has been both timely and impactful, but it should not be allowed to eclipse the fact that Menelik Shabazz has been part of our ongoing struggle, political and cultural, since the late 1960s. As such, he and his oeuvre have been to film and its place in black working class struggle in Britain what the independent publishing and book selling of New Beacon Books, Bogle-L’Ouverture and the likes of Karia Press have been to literature and education curricula and the growth of the black working class movement in education and schooling.

I hope that the end of lockdown restrictions will enable BFI to run a Menelik Shabazz memorial programme and screen his films with each screening followed by a Q&A session. The country should not be allowed to continue underestimating the importance of Menelik Shabazz to the process of Caribbean settlement in and contribution to Britain in the post-war period.

A powerful and faithful servant of our struggles who has more than earned his place in the realm of Ancestors.

Gus John, (Augustine) John is a Grenadian-born award-winning writer, education campaigner, lecturer

Dear Menelik, I’ve known you since your youth; our concerns for black culture and consciousness was the quest that introduced us nearly 5 decades ago, and that concern led us and many others into the field of cinema with a passion for Pan African history and culture. There is so much for us all to say about who you were and what you achieved. Your rich legacy in film and in black culture will be an enduring one. Your work came from the heart and with passion it delivered endlessly. Your generosity of spirit meant that many colleagues, will be grateful for having known you and worked with you, been inspired by you in their endeavours; and audiences grateful for the films you have made that tell key moments in Black British history and its links to African, and Caribbean heritage. It will take us some time to gather together and sift and preserve and re-present for current and future generations, the threads of your legacy and to acknowledge and celebrate even a fraction of what needs to be remembered of what you have left us. It will take us time because time is what will always bear witness to the true and enduring value of your vision and your gift. Rest in peace and grace dear brother Shabazz.

– June Givanni, June Givanni Pan African Film Archive (JGPACA)

Menelik was more than a highly respected and iconic filmmaker whose films brought to the screen Black diasporic stories. He was viewed as a giant in communities around the world, both within and outside of the film making world. He was generous with his time and knowledge and created significant opportunities for many, including myself. He will remain in our hearts forever and has left a legacy of amazing proportions globally.

– June Reid, CEDDO, Nzinga Soundz

There are two things I particularly remember about the filmmaker Menelik Shabazz. He and Horace Ove, at the end of the 1970s, were the first visual artists to represent black London as it had evolved beyond our parents’ “Windrush Generation”, and became its own unique and complex (and uniquely complex) entity – Menelik’s insider observations like Step Forward Youth, Burning An Illusion and The Story of Lovers’ Rock remain far more relevant than many more recent efforts. And he was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. Each time I asked him to contribute to the free black film festivals Winstan Witter and I used to organise, he was always happy to supply his work and his presence for little more than expenses – “It keeps the culture alive” he’d say; and he was always incredibly helpful to young filmmaker hopefuls who would find their way on to his sets or into his company, answering as many questions or giving out as much advice as time would allow. In a frequently ruthless business, he was simply a very nice guy.

Lloyd Bradley, author (Bass Culture, Sounds Like London)

The Story of Lovers Rock (2011)

Shocked at the news of the sudden passing of my dear friend and fellow guerrilla film maker, Menelik Shabazz. Shattering! A pioneer revolutionary, yet a quiet filmmaker who opened the eyes of many in Britain to the unjust society that blacks have to live under. I will miss you my brother. My heart is full. Sleep in peace and may your soul rise in power. 

– Esther Anderson, actor (Two Gentlemen Sharing (Ted Kotcheff, 1969, A Warm December, Sidney Poitier, 1973), Film maker (Bob Marley: Making of a Legend. Three Dumas) 

Menelik Shabazz was a pioneer of black British film who gave a much needed voice to his community at a time of great urgency. His feature Burning An Illusion is a kind of ‘reality poem’ for the big screen which brought black women into focus while The Story Of Lovers Rock shone a light on a unique form of black music made in Britain that has international significance. Menelik’s deep understanding of these subjects enabled him to treat them with both authority and insight, and they remain priceless documents for any student of film and cultural history.

Kevin Le Gendre, author and broadcaster (Don’t Stop the Carnival – Black Music in Britain)

Writing about Menelik Shabazz in the past tense feels like sacrilege, just as it is to reduce his legacy to that of being one of the first and finest British filmmakers of African heritage. My first engagement with Elder Menelik’s work came not on celluloid — but through his ground-breaking BFM Magazine. In his quiet, inimitable style, he taught us how filmmaking was an art that could and should be unapologetically cultural, political and spiritual in front of and behind the camera. The last time I saw him, he gifted me with a DVD copy of his revolutionary sci-fi documentary — Time and Judgement. The words ‘visionary’ and ‘industry giant’ are bandied around far too often, but with the independently minded, creative genius that was Menelik, these terms are apt. May you RIEP as your work continues to educate and elevate. Aṣẹ.
Peace

Dr Toyin Agbetu, community educator, The Ligali Organisation; founding member of the African Odysseys steering committee

Blood Ah Goh Run (1982)

Menelik was a true pioneer, a story teller and filmmaker whose work was firmly rooted in the black experience. Watching Burning an Illusion for the first time showed me just how important it is to see our lives, our experiences and emotions up on the big screen. Menelik was a creative person who was also generous — he always made time to talk, listen, share a joke and give advice when asked, and above all he encouraged others coming up to tell our stories and make our voices heard. We follow in the footsteps of a great filmmaker who made the impossible seem possible… his passing is a huge loss for us all.

– Nadine Marsh-Edwards, producer, Greenacre Film (Bhaji on the Beach, d. Gurinder Chadha, 2013; Been So Long, d. Tinge Krishnan, 2018 etc)

We have lost one of the most important figures in Black film making in our country. A true artist who sought to capture on film the contemporary experience of working class black life. Classic work, Burning An Illusion raised uniquely explored, political questions of identity during one of the most actively turbulent periods of the British society. It was only a few months ago I had the opportunity to interview him and other cast members about the film marking its 40 anniversary. 

Conversely, away from politics, his musical documentary homage, The Story of Lovers Rock (2011) completely nails the overlooked music genre (I was coming of age in that era) – for me it is a master class in how to convey the universal, in local subculture. One of the best ever music documentaries ever made. The body of work he leaves for TV and independence in England and on the continent of Africa is extensive and highly impressive. His legacy in relation to film critique and international collaborations should also not be forgotten. Being a key figure behind the publication of BFM magazine and the ground-breaking film festival linked to the publication.

An innovator and inspirational figure, RIP

Kunle Olulode, African Odysseys steering group, director Voice4Change

A true visionary and cultural icon Menelik Shabazz means so much to so many. He has left a powerful legacy that will stand the test of time and speak to many generations to come. 

As painful, unsettling and shocking as Bro Menelik’ s sudden passing has been, we graciously thank him and are eternally grateful for his precious gift and generosity in sharing his talents with us.

A gentle giant among men, Menelik provided the light and lens through which we can better understand ourselves and appreciate and celebrate our beautiful, rich culture in all its manifestations… the joy, ecstasy, pain and agony that are part of this life.

What a privilege it was to know you. We will take heart in the knowledge that as a sister said on twitter “we have gained a powerful and valuable ancestor”

Rest in perfect peace my brother

Lynda Rosenior-Patten (AKA DJ Ade)

Menelik Shabazz’ gone but not forgotten, his films including the classic Burning An Illusion and short documentaries such as The People’s Account, which screened as a companion piece to The Hard Stop feature documentary co-written and produced by me, says a lot about his commitment to filmmaking. 

Sincerely
Dionne 

Dionne Walker, producer, and writer/director
dionnewwww films
www.dionnewwww.com

I was very green when I met Menelik & he took that person who was totally bewildered by the world of film & TV. He welcomed me to his CEDDO family, introducing me to friends that are influential to me this very day. Without his guidance I’m not sure I would have ever realised that this is where I wanted to be. Thank you so much. 

Gayle Hall, television EVS editor

Alex Pascall OBE, Joyce Pascall, Ayandele Pascall and myself (Deidre) and the Good Vibes Records and Music LTD team join in celebrating the best of Menelik Shabazz and his contributions to expanding Black presence in film in the UK particularly, and beyond. Above all else, I can say that my brother and I have childhood memories of reading through the Black film series of magazines he launched that remain a cutting edge torch for Black film makers and the communities and interested audiences during the 1980’s, if not before that.

Though Menelik wasn’t the strongest in conducting the ‘business of film’, his choices of subject focus has lasting impact and has extended intro mainstream media – not a small feat in one’s life work.

Our condolences.

Deidre Pascall

Burning an Illusion (1981)

What a prophetic visionary, what a gentle soul, what a rebel, a peacemaker and a real ‘bredda man!’ (brother) was Menelik Shabazz, to all who knew or came across him. 

His work and films not only reflected the complexity, history and multiple challenges of black life, but the importance of individual black lives, the joys, the pain, the ups and downs of black lives, the resilience, the celebrations and the spiritual essences, codes and symbols embodied within black lives. 

As a director he presented many stories, but always gave each and every one of us appearing in or working on his productions, space to speak and let our voice be heard. 

What a weeping and a wailing must go on amongst those in the community that knew Bredda Menelik, or those who saw and were touched by his works! 

But what a joyous celebration, chanting and dancing must take place between the material and spiritual worlds as Bredda Menelik takes his place amongst the ancestors! 

He will now continue the important work of directing and thereby giving vision to those he has temporarily left behind on earth! 

So, sleep well our beloved brother, take your rest until such time our spirits ‘buck up’ (meet) again back home.  

Dr ‘H’ Patten – So-so ‘H’ to you mi bredda (my brother). 

– Dr ‘H’ Patten, Goldsmiths College

I worked with Menelik Shabazz from the early 1970’s in The Black Liberation Front — grassroots newspaper, grassroots storefront/bookshop etc. and later at Ceddo Film/video Workshop. Menelik was always calm and unassumingly very insightful and forward thinking, with creativity bursting out of him. In Step Forward Youth (produced by David Kinoshi), the sequence from the group discussion to the drama of teenage youth getting ready for the reggae disco/dance was an indication of this and what was to come. The IBA’s attempt to detract from the validity of Breaking Point (Menelik Shabazz, ATV, 1978) was shameful. On a movement and personal level Menelik will live on — ENJOY BEING WITH THE ANCESTORS MENELIK.

Dada Imarogbe, scientist and filmmaker

It was with great sadness I heard of the passing of Menelik Shabazz activist, film maker , trainer, archiver of the black struggle in Britain, our modern Griot.

The last time I saw Menelik was when he came to New Beacon to launch a spiritual healing book with his partner. He graciously gave me a copy of the DVD of his then new film Looking For Love. I was happy for his continuing quiet energy and stamina. I was grateful that he stayed the course. Many have not.

I knew him simply as Shabazz in the days when there were many independent bookshops like New Beacon in London. We often saw each other at Grass Roots bookshop on Goldbourne Road, Ladbroke Grove or Headstart Books in West Green Road in Tottenham. We had wary respect for each other. When he formed Ceddo as a film training and video production centre we often met when Ceddo camera operatives and technicians were recording cultural and political events all over London. The Black Film Maker magazine Bfm grasped the opportunity of the available new technology in film to batter down the door of the closed film world by producing trained and expressive Black film makers and technicians.

Shabazz was serious about the struggle of the Black community reflected in Step Forward Youth giving voice to the Rebel generation of Black youth mercilessly stereotyped as “criminal” by the British media and establishment. Breaking Point recording the unjust use of Sus by the British Police and Blood Ah Go Run showing the historic Black Peoples Day of Action demonstration in March 1981 following the New Cross Massacre.

He will rightly be remembered for the powerful feature length Burning An Illusion tackling head on the problems and possible vision of a conscious black population in Britain. He used young and established actors to tell the story. We found it radical and devastatingly realistic with brilliant acting. It was new storytelling from the ground. We longed for more.

Shabazz never gave up. Even with shortage of production money to finish the ground-breaking The Story of Lovers Rock Shabazz appealed to the Black population for the extra money and finished the film. The community was rewarded with a fantastic documentary  of this Black British musical creation which featured both artistes and ravers, brilliant. I was informed that he was making Pharaoh’s Unveiled. It was his last film.

Menelik Shabazz self-validated popular Black culture and through film  the story of the Black struggle in Britain. He recorded it, archived it and trained other young people to grasp the tools and skills of film making. He was uncompromising in his use of the camera to tell our stories for social justice , for identity and to indelibly stamp our presence in British history.

Thank you Shabazz our modern Griot. You can take a well-deserved rest, others will build on what you have done.

RIP Menelik Shabazz.

Michael La Rose, author and activist

So so sad to hear about the passing of Menelik Shabazz. I have never ever forgotten seeing his film Burning an Illusion for the first time at the Commonwealth Institute’s Black Arts Film Festival in 1982. It was packed and the (mostly) young Black audience reacted so positively (and loudly!). They had never seen anything like it. Menelik was a giant and a trailblazer in the British film industry and I was thrilled when he supported and encouraged my work on Black British film history. He gave me opportunities to contribute to the Black Filmmaker journal, which he produced and edited. He was a gentleman. The last time I saw him we shared the stage as guests at a Black History Month film event. RIP Menelik.

Stephen Bourne, writer and historian

Further reading

Bearing witness and burning illusions: Menelik Shabazz, 1954-2021

By Menelik Shabazz

Bearing witness and burning illusions: Menelik Shabazz, 1954-2021

Scenes from a hostile environment: a history of Black British protest film and television

By Ashley Clark

Scenes from a hostile environment: a history of Black British protest film and television

10 great black British films

By Ashley Clark

10 great black British films