RiverRun created the Spotlight section in 2010 and purposefully left it undefined to allow for a variety of future curatorial choices. Since then, the Spotlight has focused on a specific country, genre, filmmaker’s body of work or some combination thereof. This year, RiverRun will present a six-film Spotlight on Black American Cinema from 1971-1991, exclusively featuring films directed by black filmmakers, in an effort to draw attention to their contributions and importance to American cinema as a whole. The program spans three decades and includes films that are familiar and considered classics, as well as rarely screened gems. The 2015 Spotlight selections kick off in the early ‘70s, immediately following the sweeping social changes of the Civil Rights era, and culminate in 1991, which saw both the first Academy Award nomination for an African American filmmaker and the first major Hollywood film directed by an African American woman. The Spotlight lineup includes:
Director: Gordon Parks
USA / 1971 / 100 MIN. / Rating: R / 35mm
Private detective John Shaft is a bad mother–well, you know the rest–in this touchstone of the blaxploitation genre by director Gordon Parks, featuring a classic score by Isaac Hayes. Hired by a Harlem mobster to find his kidnapped daughter, Shaft enlists the help of gangsters and African nationals to get the job done. Widely considered a prime example of the Blaxploitation genre, Shaft was selected in 2000 for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Killer of Sheep
Director: Charles Burnett
USA / 1979 / 83 + 10 MIN. / Rating: MT / 35mm
In this standout work of neorealism from Charles Burnett, a Watts, LA slaughterhouse worker must negotiate the neighborhood’s retrograde influences and fight his own personal demons in order to keep from going under in the ghetto. Killer of Sheep was one of the first 50 films to be selected for the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry and listed as one of the “100 Essential Films” by the National Society of Film Critics. The UCLA Film & Television Archives carefully restored the film on 35mm.
She’s Gotta Have It
Director: Spike Lee
USA / 1986 / 84 MIN. / Rating: R / 35mm
An early Spike Lee joint, She’s Gotta Have It gets personal with Nola Darling, who’s having simultaneous sexual relationships with three different men. All three fellows want her to commit solely to them, though Nola resists being “owned” by a single partner. As Spike Lee’s first feature-length film as a writer and director, this film was the catalyst for the beginning of his influential career. It is also considered a landmark film in independent American cinema and was a welcome change in the representation of African-Americans in cinema.
Director: Robert Townsend
USA / 1987 / 78 MIN. / Rating: R / 35mm
An actor limited to stereotypical roles because of his ethnicity, dreams of making it big as a highly respected performer. As he makes his rounds, the film takes a satiric look at African-American actors in Hollywood. Through comedy this film was able to shine a much needed light on the lack of substantial roles for black actors and the misrepresentation of people of color in film and television ad was a resounding independent success, grossing more than $5 million in the first 10 months of release.
Daughters of the Dust
Director: Julie Dash
USA / 1991 / 112 MIN. / Rating: MT / 35mm
Set in 1902, this film takes a languid look at the Gullah culture of the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. African folkways were maintained well into the 20th Century in this isolated region, and it was one of the last bastions of these mores in America.
As the first feature film by an African-American woman distributed by Hollywood theatrically in the United States, this film opened to great critical acclaim, played at Sundance and Toronto film festivals, and in 2004 was added the the National Film Registry.
Boyz n the Hood
Director: John Singleton
USA / 1991 / 112 MIN. / Rating: R / 35mm
The film debut for both Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut, this life-in-the-hood drama highlights a group of interrelated subjects as they struggle to either accept or deny the fate of their South Central Los Angeles upbringing. Also starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long and Angela Bassett. John Singleton was the first African-American nominated for an Academy Award® for both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.