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The Black Film Archive wants to show the world just how limitless black cinema really is

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These collections primarily serve as an exhibition for the film noir titles the streamer already owns, and as a result, the films are often from the past 10 years, or maybe the last 20. It is rare to see films prior to those made in the 1980s. By clicking on the titles, one would think that black cinema simply did not exist in previous years.

Corn Film noir archives, a new internet tool developed by Maya Cade, aims to change mentalities. By chronicling historical noir films – from 1915 until 1979 – Cade recontextualizes what black cinema can be. Comprising over 200 titles, the archive presents each film by decade, giving a brief description of the film, written by Cade, as well as context and a link for people to watch the film for themselves.

For now, Black Film Archive only highlights movies that can be found somewhere in corners of the Internet, on YouTube or other small streaming sites.

“Part of my intention here is to bring these movies to the conversation,” Cade, whose daytime job is at the Criterion Collection, told CNN. “When we have these conversations about what film noir is, it’s really devoid of a story. So really, I hope now that isn’t the case.”

That, of course, doesn’t mean that films from the 1980s or 1990s are less important, Cade said. But they tend to be more accessible, and titles like “Do The Right Thing” (1989) and “Love Jones” (1997) often ring bells.

In previous decades, however, Hollywood was actively investing in noir cinema, Cade explained, and the period produced a plethora of iconic noir films, like the musical “Carmen Jones” (1954) or the romantic comedy “Claudine” ( 1974).

But over time, a number of films released over the past three decades have focused on topics surrounding black trauma, including critically acclaimed slave accounts such as “Beloved” and “12 Years a. Slavic”. Recent conversations around film noir have criticized the emphasis on such narratives, pointing out that there are also stories of dark joy that are worth celebrating. “ There is also a tendency to generalize about what film noir is or what it has been in the past. Cade wanted to change those conversations.

“I think when we have a deep relationship with the past, we quickly realize that these generalizations don’t hold up,” she said. In the films presented in the archives, “we see that there is romance, there is joy, there is tenderness, there is light in these films”.

One movie that Cade specifically mentioned is “Killing Time,” a 1979 short film by Fronza Woods, about a woman trying to find the best outfit to end her life. The film is a dark comedy, Cade said, and many might not associate Black people with the genre, especially in the past.

“What I’m hoping to remove (with the) Black Film Archive is the assumption that a black person hasn’t done anything film-related,” she said.

We need more “Darkness without trauma”.  Here is a start
Cade admits that she’s not the first person to shine a light on these ancient black films. And other archival preservation projects on film noir – like the LA Rebellion Preservation Project at UCLA Film & Television Archive – also exist.

But, with an emphasis on usability, its website makes these films accessible to a younger generation, who might be internet first and unlikely to go deeper into the black film market on its own.

And so far, hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from the site, and Cade has received “countless” messages and emails from people thanking her for the work she has done.

The site “captured individuals,” Cade said, and that encouraged her to continue with the project.

Soon Cade plans to expand the archive, hoping to encompass all films that have existed since the pre-1980 period – showing just how limitless black cinema can be.


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