BFI teams up with MoMA for celebration of blackness on screen in New York

At New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the BFI and MoMA will jointly present Making Faces on Film: a collaboration with BFI Black Star, a programme of films and events exploring black representation in cinema.

Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946)

Following last year’s blockbuster BFI Black Star season, the BFI has joined forces with New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to present Making Faces on Film: a collaboration with BFI Black Star, a programme of films and events exploring how images of blackness have been constructed and challenged on screen.

With screenings of landmark films such as Carmen Jones (1954) and Bush Mama (1975), the series runs from 18-26 April and celebrates a range of influential figures, from Hollywood icons like Lena Horne and Sidney Poitier to independent trailblazers like Spencer Williams and Marlon Riggs. Films from both Hollywood and outside the mainstream will highlight the vibrancy of black representation in cinema, which has thrived against a backdrop of industry constraints and structural racism.

Kicking things off in an opening event on 17 April, Brooklyn-based filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary will present a selection of her short film work, which tackles themes of blackness and femininity. She will also be showing an excerpt from her upcoming feature, The Evidence of Things Not Seen.

Other films to be screened include the 1943 musical Stormy Weather, which features Lena Horne singing and dancing alongside the likes of Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers; King Vidor’s groundbreaking 1929 film Hallelujah!, featuring early black star Nina Mae Mckinney; 1950s film noir No Way Out, starring a young Sidney Poitier; and the rare 1946 film Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A., directed by pioneering African American actor, writer and director Spencer Williams.

Stormy Weather (1943)

MoMA will also welcome alto saxophonist Braxton Cook, who will perform a new, live score to accompany a screening of Oscar Micheaux’s 1925 classic drama Body and Soul, starring the great Paul Robeson in a demanding dual role as an escaped convict and his upstanding brother. Cook, accompanied by pianist Taber Gable, will also provide a live accompaniment to a rare showing of Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913), the earliest known all-black-cast film, starring Bert Williams, the first black performer who could be described as an international pop star.

Inspired by both BFI Black Star and the ongoing MoMA exhibition Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema, the series has been co-curated by Ashley Clark, season programmer BFI Black Star, and Dessane Cassell, Joint Fellow, Department of Film, MoMA, and The Studio Museum in Harlem.

BFI Black Star, the UK’s biggest ever celebration of black on-screen talent, was a galvanising and significant project to work on,” says Ashley Clark, “and I am delighted to be teaming with MoMA on its next iteration. We hope to harness the power of cinema – both historical and contemporary – to celebrate black stardom, and provoke discussion about important themes of race and representation in our fraught modern climate.”

Dessane Cassell adds: “We’re thrilled to have an opportunity to further explore the themes presented in the galleries for the Making Faces exhibition. This collaboration will provide an exciting opportunity to examine and challenge historical constructions of blackness on screen, and we hope to also create a space for dialogue about the changing nature of representation today.”

Many of the themes of the series are also explored in Black Star – A BFI Compendium, a collection edited by James Bell, which will be available to purchase in the MoMA Bookstore.

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