Black powers! Film festival celebrates black superheroes • Brooklyn Paper

Black powers! Film festival celebrates black superheroes

He’s one bad mother: The 1971 blaxploitation sensation “Shaft,” showing this weekend at BAM, helped to lay the groundwork for the upcoming Marvel film “Black Panther.”

This festival is a study in black and might.

More than two dozen black superhero films will light up the screens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this month, leading up to the premiere of “Black Panther” on Feb. 16. The programmer behind “Fight the Power: Black Superheroes on Film,” screening from Feb. 2–18, said that he wanted to capitalize on the unprecedented excitement for the upcoming Marvel movie about a super-powered African king, and to correct some misinformation about the history of black heroes.

“The inspiration in general was the release of ‘Black Panther’ — it is breaking all sorts of records for trailer views and everyone is excited by it because it represents a new high point in black representation in fantasy and entertainment,” said Ashley Clark. “I heard a lot of people saying that ‘Black Panther’ is the first black superhero movie, but it’s not true — especially when I think of ‘Blade’ and ‘Catwoman,’ which came out before.”

The 28-film program showcases films with black protagonists from the 1970s to 2017, from all around the world, so that audiences can learn about the films that paved the way for the latest Marvel blockbuster, said Clark.

“This is a multi-decade program to the early days of black cinema,” he said. “There is about five to six decades of films — from the early days of blaxploitation and international titles, like ‘Attack the Block’ and ‘Yeelen’ — they all channel the spirit of ‘Black Panther,’ which has a Pan-African quality to it.”

Two films will screen each day for most of the festival. The first weekend will feature both “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” and “Shaft,” two of the earliest blaxploitation films that started the genre craze. These black-led action films challenged the racist portrayals of mainstream Hollywood, and gave black audiences a chance to see themselves represented on screen at a time when black superheroes were non-existent.

“I think it’s an interesting way to begin an understanding of counterculture, because something as big as ‘Black Panther’ has deep roots in black counterculture cinema like blaxploitation,” said Clark. “It has political undertones in it, which is another way to be revolutionary in cinema.”

Other highlights include the 1974 Sun Ra science-fiction musical “Space is the Place,” the understated comedy “Brother from Another Planet,” and the short film collection “The Future of the Black Screen Superheroes,” followed by a panel discussion with Clark and local filmmakers.

Clark wants the program to expose viewers to new movies in a traditional theater experience.

“I hope people have fun and see a lot of films they have not seen before,” he said. “I think the communal experience of watching films at a cinema in a room together is an extraordinary experience and I just hope people get a better grounding of black superhero history.”

“Fight the Power: Black Superheroes” at BAM Rose Cinemas [30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Feb. 2–18 at various times. $15.

“Black Panther” at Sternberg Screen at BAM Harvey (651 Fulton St. between Rockland and Ashland places in Fort Greene, www.bam.org). Opens on Feb. 16. $15.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.

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