It’s been an eventful year for Black creatives in film and television across the diaspora; notably both behind the scenes and on camera. High-profile programming appointments and development deals made by Black execs at major networks, studios and streaming platforms struck a hopeful chord. The Black global festival circuit was swift to adapt to the new virtual landscape, embracing tech innovation and radical vision to preserve alternative cinematic space for experimentation and independent storytelling.

Adding to the roster of historical Black firsts in 2021, we witnessed homegrown British talents Daniel Kaluuya and Michaela Coel winning big at the Academy and Emmy Awards – the latter using the moment to urge the next generation of creators to embrace the uncertain; to “dare” to be more bold. With daring in mind, the Black Film Bulletin reached out to some exceptional talents working in Europe, the United States, Africa and the Caribbean; who, despite the prevailing pandemic climate, did extraordinary things in 2021.

Teanne Andrews

Teanne Andrews
© Freezeframe Media

Teanne Andrews is co-founder and director of operations of the award-winning UK events and film exhibition brand We Are Parable – on the cutting edge of live ‘experience’ production. From cohosting the first public screening of Marvel’s Black Panther at BFI Southbank in London to working with director Spike Lee on the ‘Spike Is 60’ season, to ‘Who We Are’ – a nationwide screening tour and takeover of BFI Southbank – Andrews has worked with distribution companies to support the release of new films; offering audiences opportunities to experience Black cinema in culturally relevant and innovative ways.

Black Film Bulletin: How have you made it through this extraordinary pandemic working year?

Teanne Andrews: By standing firm in the belief that the work we do is important and necessary. We continued to deliver events throughout the pandemic and explored new mediums to do so. We kept busy and remained hopeful that the industry would slowly recover.

With We Are Parable working in exhibition, what’s been the most tangible shift in your industry, inspired by the global Black Lives Matter zeitgeist?

There’s definitely been a shift in that there’s more visibility of Black film exhibitors coming to the fore, accessing funding, curating programmes and working in interesting ways. This is long overdue and represents a consistent unity when telling our stories.

What have been your highlights of 2021?

Returning to the cinema, producing in-person events was definitely a high for me, I didn’t realise how much I missed it. Our first event previewed [the new 4K restoration of] Ousmane Sembène’s Mandabi [1968] with live music and poetry as part of our new nationwide initiative, ‘Who We Are’, celebrating Black cinema from around the world.

What were your top three Black film or TV releases, events or stories in 2021?

TA: One, Questlove’s Summer of Soul. Two, Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah. Three, Nia DaCosta’s Candyman.

What are your hopes for 2022?

In the age of streaming, the cinematic experience is going to be even more valuable to audiences, and those who understand and anticipate how people want their experiences curated will do really well. We see ourselves operating in that space. We also want to scale up our support for emerging Black voices in filmmaking and content creation and are announcing something very soon.

Maya Cade

Maya Cade
© Photo by Justice Namaste

Brooklyn-based archivist, writer and creative Maya Cade is the founder and curator of Black Film Archive, a living register of Black films dating from 1915 to 1979 that offers what the culture platform Slate has called “a definitive history of Black cinema”.

Black Film Bulletin: How have you made it through this extraordinary pandemic working year?

Maya Cade: Survival continues to remain possible because of the support of my community. Their support helps me sustain my belief that another world is possible, and to trust the expansive vision I have for my life.

With your Black Film Archive working in preserving and sharing film, what’s been the most tangible shift in your industry, inspired by the global BLM zeitgeist?

Inspired by the global movement for Black lives, Black people now have the space to demand answers for our endless whys: “Why am I not in this room? Why am I not being heard? Why am I not receiving justice from where I stand?” I hope the space for change continues to widen.

What have been your highlights of 2021?

My high of 2021 has been reaching a global Black audience with Black Film Archive. I created BFA like I create all things: with Black people in mind. Countless people have written in to say that they felt seen, heard and appreciated. Nothing could mean more.

What were your top three Black film or TV releases, events or stories in 2021?

One, Faya Dayi – a lyrical, striking documentary by Jessica Beshir that demands your attention. Two, The Underground Railroad – Barry Jenkins’s dreamlike, humanising television adaptation for Amazon is an artistic feat. Three, Sambizanga (1972) – Sarah Maldoror’s portrait of Black resistance is alive again with a beautiful new restoration.

What are your hopes for 2022?

My sincerest hope for 2022 is that I continue to expand Black Film Archive with intention and care, and by doing so, we collectively broaden our understanding of what a Black film is or can be.

Frances-Anne Solomon

Frances-Anne Solomon
© CarribeanTales Media Group

Frances-Anne Solomon is an award-winning writer, producer, director, curator and distributor in film, television and radio. She started her professional life at the BBC, where she was a successful television drama producer and executive producer. In 2001, she founded the CaribbeanTales Media Group. Her feature Hero: Inspired by the Extraordinary Life & Times Of Ulric Cross is streaming now on Prime, Showtime, Cineplex and Hulu.

Black Film Bulletin: How have you made it through this extraordinary pandemic working year?

Frances-Anne Solomon: It has been a period of introspection and creativity that’s allowed me to regroup, refocus and prepare. I launched my own livestream series: ‘In the Director’s Chair with Frances-Anne’, where I’ve interviewed industry trailblazers such as Julie Dash, Nadine Marsh-Edwards, CCH Pounder, Adjoa Andoh and the keeper of our Black cinema archives – June Givanni. You have to tune in to see who will be in the hot seat next. Reconnecting with my friends and documenting their accomplishments has been very cathartic for me. George Floyd’s murder coupled with pandemic isolation provided time to reflect on the injustices. It led to unprecedented opportunities for Black creators. I am deeply excited about doing my part to tell our stories.

With your CaribbeanTales Media Group working across all areas of the industry, from production and distribution to festival curation and beyond, what’s been the most tangible shift you’ve experienced, inspired by the global BLM zeitgeist?

Governments and organisations are trying to address the history of wrongs. It’s the same opportunity that came to a dead halt in the mid-90s. Those that remained – me included – did whatever we could to keep telling our stories. Perhaps this moment offers us the opportunity to catch up and to get back what we’ve lost. We recently received funding to expand our existing Creators of Colour Incubator Program, to provide a national Black Incubator and Studio Access Program (CBISAP), primarily focused on supporting Black female media entrepreneurs. CBISAP will support creators, filmmakers and producers to start their own media companies, develop studio skills and produce pitch decks and proofs of concept for their projects. It will give Black producers the necessary tools to participate in the mainstream Canadian media industry and distribute their content nationally and internationally.

What have been your highlights of 2021?

The about-face transformation of our industry and mainstream institutions across the globe, and the work I’ve been doing to expand my company’s reach with the CaribbeanTales TV platform, which livestreams and houses a catalogue of series and films as well as ‘In the Director’s Chair’, ‘Behind the Lens’, ‘CineFAM Shoptalk’ and all of our film festivals: Windrush, CaribbeanTales and CineFam. We have been able to expand our reach globally and raise our profile as a company.

What were your top three Black film or TV releases, events or stories in 2021?

Michaela Coel’s achievements and her victory speech. She is a powerhouse writer, director and producer who did the BBC [project] on her terms. I love her no-nonsense way of doing things. In the US, One Night in Miami… and Judas and the Black Messiah were riveting. In Britain, Steve McQueen’s Small Axe changed the conversations and the kinds of stories told from a Black perspective in the UK.

What are your hopes for 2022?

We have a number of projects in development including the feature film Claudia, about Claudia Jones – the badass political activist, journalist and revolutionary. We are also telling the story of Canadian millionaire businessman Denham Jolly, who founded the country’s first Black radio station. To that end, my goal is to stay healthy and to continue to grow CaribbeanTales and lend my abilities, support and expertise to the next generation of Black and underrepresented storytellers.

Ethosheia Hylton

Ethosheia Hylton
© Eclectica Films

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded British filmmaker Ethosheia Hylton its first ever European Academy Gold Fellowship for Women in 2018. Having studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, Hylton’s career started out in acting, but has since expanded to writing and directing. Having made a stunning impression with her 2017 short film Brixton Rock – based on the acclaimed Alex Wheatle novel – Hylton’s recent directorial credits include the HBO Short Film Competition winner Dolápò Is Fine (2020), the ITV anthology Unsaid Stories (2020), Channel 4 TV series Ackley Bridge and the forthcoming second series of period drama Sanditon.

Black Film Bulletin: How have you made it through this extraordinary pandemic working year?

Ethosheia Hylton: I spent most of the pandemic working on my craft from home. Watching movies and shows, writing scripts, analysing the work of my favourite filmmakers. This, along with regular walks in nature. Yoga and meditation helped get through these unprecedented times.

Working principally as a director, what have been your highlights of 2021?

The high would definitely be directing three episodes on season two of ITV’s Sanditon. I’ve always loved period films and dramas, so I fully embraced the opportunity to work on the show – a joyful and challenging experience that has really prepared me for future directing ventures.

What were your top three Black film or TV releases, events or stories in 2021?

The ITV drama Stephen was brilliant. Also Judas and the Black Messiah, and the US crime series Godfather of Harlem.

What are your hopes for 2022?

I’ll be working on finishing a feature script and a comedy series idea. I’d also like to collaborate with more upcoming talent through my production company Eclectica Films.

Claire Diao

Claire Diao
© Nathalie Guyon at FTV

A member of the Directors’ Fortnight Selection Committee who also works with the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, Claire Diao is a French and Burkinabè film critic and distributor. In 2013 she founded the Quartiers Lointains short-film touring programme; in 2015 she co-founded the Pan-African film critics’ magazine Awotele; and since 2016 she has been the CEO of the pan-African distribution company Sudu Connexion. Diao hosted the TV show Ciné Le Mag and takes part in Le Cercle on Canal+. She is also a member of the Burkinabè Film Critic Organization (Ascrib-B) and the African Federation of Film Critics (FACC).

Black Film Bulletin: How have you made it through this extraordinary pandemic working year?

Claire Diao: At the beginning, I was hoping the lockdown would only last one month, in order to take some time to just rest. But then my colleague and my community manager left my company, I ended up resigning from the TV show I hosted and I became pregnant!

With Sudu Connexion working in film distribution, what’s been the most tangible shift in your industry, inspired by the global BLM zeitgeist?

I don’t think there was a shift for us, as from the beginning, we’ve promoted pan-African filmmakers. I would rather say that thanks to the BLM zeitgeist, there was more interest in the films we defend, and [social media management platform] Buffer offered us a lifetime subscription specifically because we are a Black-owned company.

What have been your highlights of the year?

Congolese filmmaker Nelson Makengo’s Up at Night being in competition at Sundance 2021, and Guadeloupe filmmaker Nelson Foix’s short film Timoun Aw (Your Kid) [2020] becoming eligible for the French César. Finally selling adverts with Awotele after one year of hearing, “We don’t have the budget!” Curating a successful programme of French films directed by nonwhite filmmakers at the French Alliance in NY! Also, the theatrical release of my short-film programme ‘Afrofuturistik’. And, of course, becoming a mother.

What were your top three Black film or TV releases, events or stories in 2021?

Can I cheat a bit and pick from 2020? Netflix’s Simply Black directed by the French actor and filmmaker Jean-Pascal Zadi. Then, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. And Steve McQueen’s Small Axe taught me a lot of UK-Caribbean stories I’ve never heard about.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to make my child believe in the promise of the future, despite this crazy decade. I hope we find more ways to navigate between countries [even] with the new reality of Covid. I’m raising money to develop my company and promote largely the films, magazines and ideas we want to share with the world. And, of course, seeing an African Palme d’Or winner in Cannes before the year 2075!