Guest post by Amber Bertin.
When the Black Film Center & Archive (BFCA) was approached to curate an exhibit from our collections to supplement IU Cinema guest programmer Maya Cade’s amazing series Home Is Where the Heart Is: Black Cinema’s Exploration of Home, we were beyond pleased to follow Maya’s lead and bring attention to the many depictions and interpretations of home in Black cinema.
The BFCA was founded in 1981 as the first institution in the world dedicated solely to the collection, preservation, and promotion of cinematic materials made by and featuring people of African and African diasporic descent. Over our 40+ year history, this has meant that we have been committed to preserving not just the films, but also everything surrounding them to meticulously document the depiction and artistic achievement of Black people in cinema. Our collections include such varied materials as posters, lobby cards, photographs, press kits, screenplays, filmmakers’ personal papers, interviews, and ephemera, in addition to over 3,000 film titles from all over the world. Through all of this, we have been resolute in our mission to create a counterspace in which Black voices are foregrounded and celebrated.
Following Maya’s lead in her expansive definition of home, our exhibit explores the many different understandings of home that run through the BFCA’s collections. We have included materials from some of the titles Maya curated, such as publicity stills from Claudine (1974) as well as screenplays for A Different Image (1982) and My Brother’s Wedding (1983) to provide further context to the titles being screened. Additionally, we wanted to encourage further exploration of the Black film canon’s depiction of home by including materials from other titles that matched Maya’s themes, such as the lobby card from A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Julie Dash’s book on the making of Daughters of the Dust (1991), and the poster for Naked Acts (1996).
It was also important to us to include representations of the ways in which media not only has the power to define the concept of home, but also how it becomes entrenched in our own personal understandings of home through repeated domestic screenings, family-curated movie collections, and the creation of home movies. These ideas are explored in the publicity still from Crooklyn, which depicts a group of siblings watching television, and in Senegalese filmmaker Paulin S. Vieyra’s 16mm camera, which was used to shoot his family home movies.
Most fundamentally, these objects all represent one or more of the many themes Maya challenges us to think about with her series: what does home mean in the context of family, the body, ancestry, transition, and queerness? How does race influence our understanding of home in connection with these themes? What does the Black family home look like? What does it mean to find home in a Black queer community? How does ancestry and transition, both in terms of physical place and psychological legacy, impact our sense of home? What does it mean to be at home in a Black body? These are questions that numerous Black filmmakers and Black filmgoing audiences have been exploring for over 100 years and we hope that the Black Film Center & Archive’s exhibit, in conjunction with Maya’s brilliantly curated series, will encourage you to explore the many offerings of Black cinema for yourself!
Thank you to IU Cinema for asking us to curate this exhibit and thank you to Maya Cade for inspiring us with her selections.
Maya Cade’s series Home Is Where the Heart Is continues at IU Cinema with Dreaming Rivers and Black Mother on September 22, African Woman, U.S.A. and My Brother’s Wedding on September 30, and concludes with Behind Every Good Man and Pariah on October 1. There will also be an onstage conversation between Maya and filmmaker Isabel Sandoval on September 30 as part of the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Series.
Amber Bertin is the archivist at the Black Film Center & Archive. She manages acquisitions, processes collections, develops collection management strategies, and works with researchers and students to fulfill their scholarly objectives. She also works with IU professors and other educators to incorporate Black Film Center & Archive materials into classes and curriculums through visits, lectures, and class projects.