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Paris Is Burning
A still from Paris is BurningCourtesy of BFI

Unmissable BFI Black Star films you still have time to see

As the season draws closer to completion, we round-up the most thought-provoking screening and events left

We’re drawing closer to the end of 2016, and the BFI is lining up the last events of its much-needed Black Star season. The year began with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which prompted a debate about the limited exposure of black cinema, actors and filmmakers, and led to a much more positive end for black British arts. The BBC followed suit and kickstarted a Black and British campaign shortly after BFI launched Black Star – both of which were hoping to shed light on black talent.

The programme, which started in October, has already showcased the versatility and power of black cinema. Nineties cult classics like Boyz n’ the Hood are shown alongside the more nostalgic Claudine, of our parents’ era. Alongside this lineup this are symposiums exploring the essence of black stardom, and assessing the scope of black comedy. In light of this, we’ve taken the time to compile a list of the best upcoming events.


Beyoncé is one of the world’s most prolific black stars. Moreover, her self-authored visual album Lemonade is one of the most compelling meditations on black womanhood to emerge from 2016. It effortlessly interweaves both past and present elements of the African American diaspora, drawing upon traditional African ancestral practices while simultaneously referencing modern-day instances of black girl magic.

Named after one of the singer’s albums, B’Day offers a unique examination of the ongoing legacy of this unstoppable superstar. The event will be spearheaded by an eclectic panel of journalists, programmers and dancers that reflect upon the visual and sonic artistry of Lemonade and, on a wider scale, Beyonce’s cinematic and musical successes and failures. It will consider the complete range of Bey’s engagement with the moving image in both her music videos and on film.

The session will involve a series of short talks, clips of her on-screen performances and no-doubt heated debates. Ultimately the event aims to give rise to questions like, is Beyoncé equipped to be a movie star? Moreover, how much autonomy can a 21st-century black screen goddess have?

You can attend B’DAY at BFI Southbank at 1pm on December 11 – read more here


Welcome II the Terrodome, Ngozi Onwurah’s dystopian racially charged thriller, was the first major UK theatrical release by a British black/biracial director. It gained critical acclaim and firmly positioned Onwurah as a pioneer of modern black British film. Now Onwurah returns on December 8 to the Brixton Cultural Archives with Shoot The Messenger.

Joseph Pascale (David Oyelowo), a struggling middle-class teacher, must define himself against a world of gangs, crime and limited opportunity. Shoot The Messenger is a provocative drama dealing with both the public and the private. It boldly engages with life’s intersections: love, family, class, religion, mental health and social inequality in the education system. Yet similarly, Shoot the Messenger offers a frank examination of 21st-century black British identity throughout from the perspective of its lead.

The event is a partnership between BFI and the Brixton Cultural Archives in light of the Black Star season. Alongside a screening of Shoot the Messenger, panellists including Black star curator Ashley Clark, Shoot The Messenger producer Yvonne Ibazebo and Black Star compendium author Gaylene Gould will also decode its most prominent themes. It will be an evening to remember.

You can attend Shoot The Messenger at the Brixton Cultural Archives on December 8 – read more here


“You’re black, you’re male and you’re gay… You’re going to have to be stronger than you ever imagined.” Jennie Livingston’s debut is a document of black gay and transsexual life in 80s Harlem, and one of the most exhilarating and heartfelt examples of cinema to exist. Your first time watching Paris Is Burning will be akin to Alice’s initial gazing through the looking glass. The film works as an unadulterated introduction into the struggle of feeling like a woman trapped in a man’s body, and being a black homosexual in a white man’s world.

You’ll become immersed in an 80s subculture that is as beguiling as it is bittersweet. Flamboyant affairs where ball queens cry out O-P-U-L-E-N-C-E and competitors respond by walking its runway and voguing to compete. Candid interviews with the likes of Pepper Labeija and Venus Extravaganza give us a deeper insight into a world that refuses to be erased, despite economic hardship and social exclusion. Through their lens, we must confront the issues of racism, gender orientation, classism and biased beauty ideals that make up their daily battleground. Livingston has effortlessly weaved the balls, street and interview footage into an underground masterpiece. It is not without reason that, decades following its 1991 release, Paris Is Burning still ignites debate.

You can stream the film on BFI’s website or view this alternative link


Comedy has always been a vital element of African American cinema since its emergence in the 30s. Historically, melodrama provided a means by which deeper issues within the black community, such as inequality and economic hardship, could be faced. On the flipside, comedy also provided the prospect of escape from these issues. Decades on and comedy still plays a major role in black cinema, and this event presents the chance to examine cinema’s greatest black comic stars, from Richard Pryor to Chris Rock.

Led by a lively crew of panellists, the event sought to question the fundamentals of humour in Hollywood. Why is it that black stars use humour to make an impact? Why is it that humour often unlocks the key to stardom? Do we love or hate our black comedians? And what kind of humour are we referring to here? This one-of-a-kind event examined the birth and progression of our black comic stars, from those whose jokes rocked the establishment to those who achieved worldwide fame. From storytelling to discussions, it was entertaining and informing.

You can see Richard Pryor: Live in Concert at the BFI Southbank on December 10 (info here) and Coming to America on December 11 at BFI Southbank (read more here)


What does it take to be a memorable filmmaker? Lloyd Reckord was a visionary and one of Britain’s first black directors. But he originally made his name in Hollywood as an actor, and this served to overshadow his filmmaking talents. In this event, BFI pay homage to the latter. Reckord was a key player during the swinging 60s, his experimental shorts provocatively commenting on class, race and sexuality-based prejudices of the 60s, while serving to incorporate distinctive elements of black street culture and beat slang. What’s more, he also starred in smash-hit Hot Summer Night (1959), which featured the first interracial relationship on TV, highlighting Reckord’s tendency to artistically push boundaries.

Event curator Will Fowler aims to “explore and profile these little-known short films which almost never get included in any seasons about 60s cinema. As well as use unseen interview footage to understand Reckord’s varied influences including underground filmmaking and the work of Jean Cocteau.” As filmmaker and writer Campbell pointed out, “it’s important that deeper histories about black filmmaking are brought to light”.

You can attend Lloyd Reckord: Black Star to Black Filmaker at BFI Southbank on December 21 – read more here