BLK Docs launches new monthly series for Black documentarians

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By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

BLK Docs: A new partnership between Speller Street Films, the Luminal Theater, and Seed&Spark is offering documentaries for the public to stream and enjoy.

The first documentary that screened online earlier this week was “Wilmington on Fire” by Christopher Everett. Although this film was about events that happened in the late 1890s, Wilmington, North Carolina, is still on fire. Recently three local police officers were fired for calling for a “slaughtering.” Part of the recorded conversation between the officers follows: “We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them fu—– ni—–. I can’t wait. God, I can’t wait.” Their conversation eventually turned to the topic of the protests against racism occurring across the nation and agency members “kneeling down with the Black folks” and referring to Black cops as “bad news” and a “piece of sh*t.”

“Wilmington on Fire” was grounded in the bloody history of American racism and unpacks the truth behind the Wilmington Massacre, the only successful coup d’etat. In 1898, in Wilmington, NC, an armed mob of Democrat-backed white supremacists opened fire on thriving middle-class African-American neighborhoods, slaughtering hundreds and exiling thousands out of the city for good. Tulsa and Rosewood have long been infamous, but Wilmington came first and was even more devastating in its effects.

Wilmington On Fire

The July documentary offering will be held on July 30 – Aug 6: and is titled “Miles in the Life” by Shaun Mathis at 8:00 p.m. A live online Q&A with the director and the film’s subject Jabari Hayes is also included. Mathis’ 2017 documentary is a chronicle of Atlanta limousine driver Jabari Hayes, who trafficked large quantities of cocaine across the country for the then-largest African-American drug organization in the southeast known as Black Mafia Family.

At this time, when the vulnerability to Black lives is at the forefront, it is even more critical that Black storytellers thrust their stories to the center. Founded by Speller Street Films and The Luminal Theater, BLK Docs’ mission is to build an authentic documentary film culture within the African-American community through film screenings, webinars, and other interactive film events.

As producers, programmers, and archivists of Black cinema, “Wilmington on Fire” director Christopher Everett, and The Luminal Theater’s founder Curtis Caesar John started BLK Docs after becoming increasingly frustrated at being unable to find enough contemporary documentaries by Black filmmakers to showcase. “Of course there are “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Whose Streets?” and others, but for the most part Black-subject documentaries, especially those highlighted by big festivals, are made by non-Black directors,” says John. “While those directors are usually well meaning, by putting the focus on Black documentarians directly, BLK Docs will literally show that we are the most keen interpreters of our own stories and create a system in which they can thrive.”

Director Christopher Everett

Is any group a monolith, defined by a slim folder of characteristics, a bag of shared experiences? No way. So, enjoy an ever-expanding collection of unique stories rooted in Black life. There are many titles under “The Black Experience(s) Playlist:”

“I Am Thalente” is a documentary about aspiring pro skateboarder Thalente Biyela, who goes from living on the streets of South Africa to skating with legends like Tony Hawk in this real-life journey for the American Dream. I reviewed “I Am Thalente” in 2016 for the Crusader: After much practice at home, Thalente makes his way to Florida where he enters competitions and finally reaches Los Angeles, where he is in for one eye-opening experience after another. Committed to his sport, this young man has gone on to achieve acclaim in the world of skateboarding.

It was nice to know that he survived the hardships of his childhood, since this documentary just lights you up with his ambition, easy manner and respect—not only for the skateboard—but for those around him.

“Broken On All Sides” is a critical and necessary look at mass incarceration as the new Jim Crow, Hear directly from former prisoners, correctional officers, elected officials, professors, and activists on how the prison complex impacts Black individuals and communities.

For information, visit: [https://www.seedandspark.com/watch/playlist/the-black-experiences].

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