Seven Songs for Malcolm X & The Last Angel of History

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Seven Songs for Malcolm XJohn Akomfrah, 1993, 52 min.

An homage to the inspirational African-American civil rights leader, Seven Songs for Malcolm X collects testimonies, eyewitness accounts and dramatic reenactments to tell the life, legacy, loves, and losses of Malcolm X.

Featuring interviews with Malcolm’s widow Betty Shabazz, Spike Lee, and many other, SEVEN SONGS looks for the meaning behind the resurgence of interest in the man whose X always stood for the unknown.

“[Seven Songs for Malcolm X] combines riveting footage of the man himself, extracts from his writing, recollections of his family, friends and fellow activists, with [brief] staged tableaux. It’s all here: Malcolm X’s charisma, the struggle to clarify his beliefs, and the context in which they evolved… an engrossing portrait.”—Geoff Ellis, Time Out (London)

The Last Angel of History
John Akomfrah, 1996, 45 min.

This cinematic essay posits science fiction (with tropes such as alien abduction, estrangement, and genetic engineering) as a metaphor for the Pan-African experience of forced displacement, cultural alienation, and otherness.

Akomfrah’s analysis is rooted in an exploration of the cultural works of Pan-African artists, such as funkmaster George Clinton and hisMothership Connection, Sun Ra’s use of extraterrestrial iconography, and the very explicit connection drawn between these issues in the writings of black science fiction authors Samuel R. Delaney and Octavia Butler.

Included are interviews with black cultural figures, from musicians DJ Spooky, Goldie, and Derek May, who discuss the importance of George Clinton to their own music, to George Clinton himself. Astronaut Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr. describes his experiences as one of the first African-Americans in space, while Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols tells of her campaign for a greater role for African-Americans in NASA. Novelist Ismael Reed and cultural critics Greg Tate and Kodwo Eshun tease out the parallels between black life and science fiction, while Delaney and Butler discuss the motivations behind their choice of the genre to express ideas about the black experience.

In keeping with the futuristic tenor of the film, the interviews are intercut with images of Pan-African life from different periods of history, jumping between time and space from the past to the future to the present, not unlike the mode of many rock videos or surfing the Internet.

Presented as part of the Return of Blacklight Cinema series, which shows highlights from the Blacklight Film Festival, which started at Chicago Filmmakers in 1982 and ran at various locations through 1993. Floyd Webb, Blacklight’s founder and programmer, will join us to reminisce about the films and the festival. This series is co-presented with Chicago Filmmakers.

Black Cinema House
6901 S. Dorchester Ave.