Film still from ‘Black to Life’ by Akinola Davies. All photos: Courtesy of Melanin Unscripted
The success of Black cinema in the past half-decade has particularly depended on film studios and audiences alike developing the capacity to imagine Black narratives which are vast, complicated, and occupy previously uncharted genres. From the gothic horror of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, to the slow-moving painting that is Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, to the Black diaspora’s love affair with live-action superhero film Black Panther, the versatility and richness we have witnessed in Black cinema has set a blueprint for the standards we expect in years to come.
As Told By Us is a collection of films that celebrates the versatility of Black cinematic narratives. Debuting on Friday the 16th October through a live-stream film festival, the collective features 24 visual projects created by over 20 Black filmmakers, both new and established. Together, it presents a rich tapestry of Black film. The films spans geography, connecting the Black diaspora through never-before-seen visuals which aim to push the boundaries of Black cinema, and inspire cultural revolution.
“I want to emphasise that this is British history and not just Black British history,” says Akinola Davies, director of Black to Life which will be screened at the festival. “Black people have a cultural and historical deficit across the institutions of society in this country that we have been a part of for centuries, not decades. Beyond that, I think as a society we need a more rounded relationship with reconciliation. Not only celebrating our victories but also recognising some of the atrocities that have established our society. By not having a balance in this history, education can occupy a place of ignorance by placing emphasis on selective truths.”
Elsewhere, Maame-Yaa Aforo, director of Brown Paper Pageant, states her own intentions: “Brown Paper Pageant is a love letter to anyone who has ever felt unwanted but especially to my dark skinned sisters. It is a dark comedic interpretation of the insecurities that were awoken in me when I attended college in the South.”
Adoro continues: “The issue of colourism is a ‘sweep it under the rug’ conversation and my goal with this film is to shed light on the internal struggle of a dark skinned Black woman who wants to be accepted. My hope is that it makes people think and most importantly, laugh.”
A collaborative project curated by For Africans By Africans, Melanin Unscripted, and Afriquette, As Told By Us has ambitious aims and promises to deliver a unique portrait of Blackness on a global scale. VICE caught up with Amarachi Nwosu, co-founder of Melanin Unscripted, to find out more about the festival and the place of cultural revolutions in the midst of political revolutions.
Hi Amarachi. What encouraged the Black creatives involved in this Film Festival to come together and create this anthology?
Amarachi Nwosu: With this project, we wanted to create a space for the global Black community to come together and celebrate our existence and multiplicity through the visual projects that we’ve curated. The events that have occurred these past few months have been revelatory of the global perception of Black communities.
It’s disheartening to see that the world pays attention to Black lives and experiences mostly when it involves tragic situations. In the heat of these situations, our lives, our social feeds are constantly being bombarded with dehumanising content that takes a mental toll on us every day and sometimes, we just want to feel good. It’s important because seeing these different narratives of Black experiences around the world reinforces the idea that we are dynamic and we can exist beyond these tragic narratives.
How does the Film Festival hope to create a tapestry of international Blackness – and how do the distinct projects speak with and complement each other?
We hope our audience leaves this viewing with a renewed sense of self-affirmation, knowing that they are not alone in their experiences and being conscious of the numerous intersections of Black identity. We want them to feel seen and to revel in the pride that comes with it. These projects complement each other because they represent us telling our story outside of the lens mainstream media has projected. Whether a film on love, pain, growth or coming of age, As Told By Us is a movement representing the diversity of Black narratives.
What do you want the impact of As Told By Us to be for the film industry, the broader creative industry, and society at large?
We want there to be more representation and more platforms created for us and by us that are supported on the world stage. Black narratives deserve funding, visibility and impact and As Told By Us is just a glimpse of what can be done when we come together. We also want to show that creativity is a major vessel to provide relief as we are donating 40 percent of proceeds to organisations supporting Black communities, 20 percent which would go to Rise in Light to support Nigerian youth education. Overall our goal is to elevate Black stories and the Black people behind them.
What do you feel is the importance of diverse Black narratives in film, and how do you define diversity in film?
Diversity in film is inclusivity from the top down. We need more Black executive producers who have access to resources that they can spread to Black talent. We need Black directors and visual artists visualising the experiences of both Black and non-Black people. We need Black streaming platforms to be able to share our content and invest in them knowing that we are also investing in ourselves.
Chika Okoli, founder of For Africans By Africans, says that the idea of this festival is to show that “we can exist beyond these tragic narratives.” Within the current political climate of uprisings in Nigeria with the #EndSARS movement, how can joy and beauty in African cinema itself be viewed as a form of protest and resistance?
In Nigeria there are so many talented people telling stories on the world stage but mainstream media loves to cover Nigeria when we are in distress. #EndSARS is young people telling society that they are tired of operating on the frequency of people in power who are not creating a better future for the youth.
In a world where Blackness is deemed as degrading or less than, being Black proud and knowing your power is a form of resistance against the status quo. I believe that joy and beauty in African cinema allows us to see another side of our experience that is not just centred in our pain. It has the ability to allow us to see and create a future that we can be proud of both on screen and off. As Black people so much of the history of our past has been lost, but with film we have the opportunity to make sure that narratives on our present and future are never lost and that we tell it from our own lens, told by us.
As Told By Us streams online on the 16th and 18th of October.