AP Film Studies: Black Thought

Women dominate the Portland Black Film Fest.

It’s no secret that cinema is whitewashed. Just look at the lineup of the Portland International Film Fest, which features a whopping two movies from the African continent in a sea of middlebrow Euro fare. Selma—one of the best-reviewed films of the year—was largely snubbed in Academy Awards nominations, despite the fact that director Ava DuVernay has been compared to Spielberg, and would have been the first African-American woman director nominated. Which makes the Portland Black Film Festival all the more important (Hollywood Theatre, Feb. 5-21; for full listings, visit hollywoodtheatre.org). Now in its third year, PBFF has shifted to focus on a minority within a minority: black women directors. 
The monthlong festival kicks off this weekend with a trio of films exploring the wide berth of movies by black women directors: Daughters of the Dust, Julie Dash’s moving portrait of the Gullah people in Georgia (Thursday); Kasi Lemmons’ dark Southern gothic Eve’s Bayou (Friday); and Shola Lynch’s Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, examining the life of UCLA professor and radical Angela Davis (Sunday). 

For this year's programming, curator David Walker has teamed up with film writer and scholar Ariella Tai, a recent Queens transplant. Tai spoke with AP Film Studies about the festival, the gentrification of Portland and the state of black women in cinema. 

AP Film Studies: With Selma getting the shaft, it seems like this festival is pretty well timed. 

Ariella Tai: I've been planning this for a long time. But every time the awards come around, something happens. Last year, Lupita Nyong'o won (for 12 Years a Slave), and it was amazing. This time it was awful that Selma didn't get [recognized].

The fact that Ava DuVernay wasn't nominated was a shock. 

I think the fact that we're still at this point is depressing. When I first saw Selma, people were like, "I've never seen a movie by a black woman before." The fact that people have been making movies like this for so long, and people can go their entire lives without seeing a movie by a black woman with the frequency with which we watch movies, it makes me sad. It's a failure of education.

How did you approach programming this series?

I tried to choose the most iconic films. If you're looking at black women cinema that you want to talk about, Eve's Bayou was the first film to be backed by a major studio—stuff like that. They're films that really [show] the contribution black women have made to cinematic history.

What do you want people to take away from the festival?

I want there to be a revelation. I want people to be able to understand and meditate on black women narratives when they're actually formed by black women. Especially in this political moment. I think it's important for everyone. And they're not just about politics. They're also funny and educating.

You hail from Queens. Was moving to Portland jarring?

It's definitely a culture shock. Queens is the most diverse place in the world. It's the biggest density of people of different nationalities living in the same space. But I don't necessarily think that Portland is an anomaly. What's happening in Portland with gentrification, it's a lot more common than [people think]. It's definitely not unique.

Also Showing: 

  1. Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece Princess Mononoke towers above nearly every other high-fantasy adventure in cinematic history. 5th Avenue Cinema. 5:30 and 9 pm Friday-Saturday and 3 pm Sunday, Feb. 6-8.
  1. Never mind Team Jacob. My heart is forever on Team Scott Howard, the baller howler from Teen Wolf. Kiggins Theatre. Opens Friday, Feb. 6.
  1. The Care Bears Movie manages to be the most racially diverse group of cuddle monsters ever, representing the entire spectrum. Maybe PIFF should book it next year. Hollywood Theatre. Feb. 7-8.
  1. Fifty years on, Dr. Strangelove hasn’t lost its edge or its biting humor. Academy Theater. Feb. 6-12.
  1. With The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson proved he could just as easily haunt your nightmares as he could make you smile. Laurelhurst Theater. Feb. 6-12.
  1. Celebrate Chinese New Year with Dreadnaught, featuring an ass-beating during a lion dance. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 10.

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