Posted: 08/18/2008


The Black List – Volume I


by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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The 14th Annual Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video scored another victory, as it recently screened a shortened version of The Black List: Volume One, with host veteran journalist Elvis Mitchell in attendance for a question and answer session.

Even though The Black List: Volume One has been in the making since 2006, its screening comes on the heels of the recent broadcast of CNN’s Blacks in America, which by many estimations was just a promulgation of stereotypes about African-Americans.

The HBO-backed The Black List: Volume One is a collaboration between Mitchell, who is a former New York Times film critic, and director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. The documentary features many of today’s fascinating and renowned Blacks in a format in which they’ve been allowed to ruminate on subjects of race, struggle and achievement.

The theory was that Mitchell and crew would take the word “black,” examine its negative connotations and turn that around or “resuscitate” it and use the word for powerful images—thus The Black List: Volume One.

Among the actors, who were included on video at the film fest screening, were: Lou Gossett, Jr., who examined Black theater a bit from the lens of what he considered the first real Black troupe—those who appeared in Jean Genet’s play, The Blacks. Gossett was part of this crew, along with Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou, James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne and Charles Gordone. The Blacks, considered controversial at that time, was the longest running off-Broadway non-musical; premiered in Paris in 1959 and began in 1961 in New York, running for 1,408 performances.

Others appearing in the HBO special are the Rev. Al Sharpton; the Brookings Institution’s Susan Rice; Faye Wattleton of Planned Parenthood; Slash, of Guns ‘N Roses, and Toni Morrison, who said that, “writing, for me, is my only free place.”

Filmmaker Keenan Ivory Wayans said that his film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka originally ran in just five cities for its first showing. He talked about not knowing about directing a film or the fact that he needed permits. He shared with audience members the thrill of packing up a movie set when the cops came, because he was shooting “illegally.”

Vernon Jordan, previously of former Pres. Bill Clinton’s camp, offered up for discussion that, “there’s a definition of Black America but not one of white America.”

Chris Rock, Suzanne-Lori Parks, erotic author Zane, Colin Powell, author and basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and famed dancer Bill T. Jones rounded out the cast.

Mitchell said that Greenfield-Sanders wanted to do something similar to To Dream a World, a coffee-table book, to “reclaim the negative vibe; we just wanted a discrete free flow, with great photography.”

The entire version of The Black List: Volume One will premiere on HBO on August 25, and influential Black speakers include Sean Combs, Mahlon Duckett, Thelma Golden, among others.

The screening is part of a wider project that includes the documentary, a traveling museum exhibition of photographic portraits, a book of photographs and interviews, and a multimedia curriculum for schools.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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