During the 1970s, Blaxploitation may have been the dominant force in cinema by and about African Americans. But around that same time, and extending into the 1980s, a much smaller movement of independent films produced by students and graduates of the UCLA film school was forging a less splashy and more sociopolitical direction for black film.
Co-presented with AFI Silver Theatre, the National Gallery of Art’s series, “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema” pulls highlights from that movement, including the follow-up to what was probably its highest-profile work, Charles Burnett’s landmark 1979 film Killer of Sheep (which didn’t see an official release till 2007). The follow-up, 1983’s My Brother’s Wedding, was less impressionistic than its predecessor but still concentrated on the details of life in South Central Los Angeles. Haile Gerima’s 1975 Bush Mama, which shows March 10, blends documentary and narrative to look at a similar setting.
Larry Clark’s Passing Through—his master’s thesis at UCLA, co-written with Ted Lange, better known as Isaac the bartender from Love Boat—remains in L.A., but concentrates on the intersection of jazz and black life. The director uses a crime story about a jazz musician recently released from prison to celebrate the music as well as metaphorically examine the uneasy racial politics inherent in white adoption of black culture.
The last of the four features in the series is Julie Dash’s 1991 Daughters of the Dust, an Alice Walker adaptation about a group of Gullah women looking to move to the South Carolina mainland. It was Dash’s third feature, but the first to receive a general release—and indeed, the first by any African-American woman to see a general release. Free.