Streaming: in search of the films that in­spired Black Pan­ther

From a Sene­galese road movie to les­bian blues god­desses, dig deep on­line and you’ll find gems of the less mon­eyed African-dis­apora cin­ema

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Art -

’CHALLA rules all in the Blu-ray and VOD do­main this week, as new releases have largely dodged the ram­pag­ing path of Black Pan­ther (Dis­ney, 12A) – which may no longer be the high­est-gross­ing film of the year, but could re­main un­chal­lenged as 2018’s most state­ment-mak­ing, gaunt­let-throw­ing block­buster, the for­mula film that comes clos­est to flip­ping the for­mula. If that’s a qual­i­fied claim, that’s be­cause Ryan Coogler’s im­pres­sively hun­gry, pur­pose­ful comic-book spec­tac­u­lar is still op­er­at­ing within a strait­jacket, al­beit one of chic, fu­tur­is­tic de­sign: it’s sti­fled, par­tic­u­larly in a pro­tracted, placeto-place first half, by the boxtick­ing rigours of in-house Mar­vel sto­ry­telling. When freed from the busi­ness of fran­chise-found­ing, how­ever, it pounces, bounds and even, in less fe­line fash­ion, flies: its flashes of po­lit­i­cal con­science, no-non­sense gen­der par­ity and glim­mer­ing Afro­fu­tur­ist aes­thetic feel col­lec­tively new. What­ever its other com­pro­mises, Black Pan­ther is a widest-pos­si­bleau­di­ence jug­ger­naut that leads with its black­ness rather than smug­gling it through big-stu­dio cus­toms.

How the film’s im­pact will shift or rear­range the iden­tity pol­i­tics of com­mer­cial Hol­ly­wood moviemak­ing re­mains to be seen. In the mean­time, we can hope its suc­cess en­cour­ages some cross­over in­ter­est in the less mon­eyed black cin­ema that in­spired it. Per­haps that’s op­ti­mistic, though ei­ther way curious view­ers will have to do more dig­ging in the streaming archives than they should to find sub­stan­tial re­serves of black-di­rected and black-ori­ented films. Take, for ex­am­ple, Touki Bouki, the raw, se­duc­tive, cooler-than-be­ing-cool 1973 Sene­galese road odyssey that ar­guably con­trib­uted a hair of DNA to Black Pan­ther’s African hero­ism, and was vis­ually quoted by Bey­oncé in her most re­cent tour mar­ket­ing: a gen­uinely iconic Afro clas­sic, yet not stream­able any­where in the UK. (The US edi­tion of Film­struck has it; here’s hoping ours catches up soon.)

It may not stretch to Touki Bouki, but the BFI Player’s ex­cel­lent Black Star col­lec­tion, a still-grow­ing off­shoot from their 2016 cin­ema sea­son of the same name, is the kind of li­brary more spe­cial­ist streaming out­lets could stand to build. The brief is broad and so is the range: ob­vi­ously in­dis­pens­able US canon ti­tles such as Do the Right Thing and Moon­light, cris de coeur from mod­ern Africa such as Of Good Re­port and A Scream­ing Man, odd cul­tural arte­facts such as Car Wash and For Queen and Coun­try, star­ring Den­zel Wash­ing­ton as an un­likely em­bod­i­ment of 1980s London ur­ban alien­ation. The un­der­seen pick of the menu: Charles Bur­nett’s an­gry, on-edge, morally creased cop thriller The Glass Shield, which may have been made in 1994 but feels notably cur­rent in its ex­am­i­na­tion of racial per­se­cu­tion by (and within) the po­lice force.

Those in­clined to dig deeper still, mean­while, might con­sider giv­ing the lit­tle-her­alded streaming ser­vice Kweli.tv a look. Billed as a cu­rated col­lec­tion of African di­as­pora con­tent – in­clud­ing films, doc­u­men­taries, TV and shorts from around the world – it’s a mixed but of­ten rev­e­la­tory bag. Given that it’s a Us-based ser­vice, in­con­sis­tent in­ter­na­tional li­cens­ing can lead to some road­blocks: I was dis­ap­pointed to find Raoul Peck’s ster­ling po­lit­i­cal biopic Lu­mumba barred in the UK, but had bet­ter luck with the gen­uinely be­witch­ing, west African folk-in­spired an­i­ma­tion Kirikou and the Sorcer­ess. Sub­scrip­tion fees (the con­ver­sion of $6 a month) are low enough to make such spot­ti­ness for­giv­able, though pay-per-view op­tions are also avail­able. It’s not as if you’ll find such fas­ci­nat­ing nuggets as T’ain’t No­body’s Biz­ness, a half-hour short on les­bian blues god­desses of the 1920s, any­where else. That’s a long way from Black Pan­ther, but here’s to gates, and minds, open­ing.

Photos: The Guardian

‘Cooler than be­ing cool’: a scene from Touki Bouki, fea­tur­ing the skull mo­tor­bike that in­spired Bey­oncé and Jay-z’s On the Run II tour poster.

The ‘Afro­fu­tur­ist’ aes­thetic of Black Pan­ther, star­ring Lupita Nyong’o and Leti­tia Wright.

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