BFI Innovation Lab presents new programme centring black women on film

The 1966 film La Noire De… meaning ‘the Black girl of…?’ has provided the inspiration for a series of films I have programmed at Showroom Cinema; a journey through time and across continents centring the experiences of young black women over three excellent films.

The season begins with one of the earliest surviving films directed by a black person, 1920’s Within Our Gates, in which we meet ‘la noire de conviction’ - the black woman of conviction. The film follows Sylvia Landry, a determined woman dedicated to finding the resources needed for the advancement of black people in the South. When it comes to matters of romance, she knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t settle for less.

Released at a time of increased racial hatred in the U.S., it is important to remember how hostile the climate was for black people when the film was released. Within Our Gates is very much a challenge to that. It is special to see the film over 100 years later, and it will be screened with live musical interpretation.

The family film Supa Modo features ‘la noire du village’ - the black girl of the village. We’ve all heard the proverb, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and Supa Modo is the perfect depiction of that. Director Likarion Wainaina invites us into a rural Kenyan village, where Jo, a 9-year old with a terminal illness, has her dreams of being a superhero indulged by her nearest and dearest.

The final film is La Noire De… itself, commonly known as Black Girl. If it were up to me, I would say she was ‘la noire des faux espoirs’ - the black girl of false hope. We all know what it’s like to long for something, to imagine it in our dreams and the ways in which we will be fulfilled by this ‘one thing’.

In the case of Black Girl, life in France is ‘the thing’ for our protagonist Diouana. What she gets in response is - false hope - the reality that colonialism exists only to not respond to the question, ‘the black girl of…’, leaving Diouana in a state of limbo and confusion. The film will be followed by a special spoken word performance by Sheffield’s Poet Laureate Danae Wellington.

Philippa’s season featuring Within Our Gates, Supa Modo and Black Girl begins on Thursday 27 April and tickets are on sale now.



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