CIFF 2020: Black Perspectives Program Highlights Diverse Voices

Founded in 1997 by Alisa Stars and Bob Scarpelli in collaboration with Spike Lee, the Black Perspectives program at the Chicago International Film Festival has been highlighting films from the African and African American perspective for over two decades. The program premiered “I Will Follow” by Ava DuVernay in 2010, and has highlighted works by Lee Daniels, George Tillman, Maya Angelou, Ousmane Sembene, Abderrahmane Sissako, Steve McQueen, and many more. It also features an annual tribute—past honorees have included Viola Davis, Forest Whitaker, and Sidney Poitier, along with panel discussions. While 2020 has been a different year for the Chicago International Film Festival, the Black Perspectives program remains an essential part of the experience, even if much of it is virtual this year.

Highlights this year in the Black Perspectives program include Bad Hair,” writer/director Justin Simien’s long-awaited follow-up to “Dear White People.” A much-longer cut played at Sundance, which we covered here, saying, “There are imagery and ideas in it that I won’t forget for a long time, and I can’t wait to see how people respond to its insane ambition and memorable imagery.” The Drive-in screening of “Bad Hair” is sold-out, but if you can’t watch it as a part of CIFF, it will be on Hulu on October 23rd, and we will write about this daring movie more extensively then.

One of the biggest events of every film festival that books it this year is the statement made by the directorial debut of Regina King with “One Night in Miami.” Adapted from the award-winning play of the same name, it imagines a night in Florida in which Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown end up in the same hotel room, discussing race, celebrity, and the responsibility of when the two intertwine. It is a smart film with fantastic performances from its quartet, particularly Kingsley Ben-Adir. Read more about it here.  

Another highlight making the journey from Sundance to CIFF is “Farewell Amor,” from Tanzanian-American director Ekwa Msangi. The film premiered in competition at Park City, where Nick Allen praised its “lovely tenderness” and wrote how it is “comprised of three excellent performances and many quiet conversations.”

Streaming as a part of the Black Perspectives program is the latest documentary from the legendary Sam Pollard, who uses entirely archival footage to tell the story of “MLK/FBI,” a study in how the U.S. government sought not only to besmirch Reverend King but to hold back the entire protest movement in the process. Writing about this excellent film as a part of virtual TIFF coverage, we said, “It is a finely tuned, perfectly edited film, one that builds to a remarkably current chapter about the power and need for legal protest, and what it says about the failures of a country that doesn’t encourage it.”

Luchina Fisher’s “Mama Gloria” has that connection to Chicago that often makes for the most remarkable CIFF experiences. It’s the story of Gloria Allen, Chicago’s Black transgender icon. In his fest preview, Peter Sobczynski wrote, “Her story, which she recounts in detail that is both moving and entertaining, serves as an effective way to see how the community as a whole has grown and developed since she first emerged in the Sixties.”

Other films in the Black Perspectives program include “Night of the Kings,” “The Special,” “Sylvie’s Love,” and a series of short films. Find out more here.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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