Art trumps calamity in a Covid-19 world.
During the pandemic, the stillness of the country caused many to focus on art outside of Hollywood. As production at major studios and cable channels halted their projects, independent film fests, artists and movie houses opened their virtual doors and brick-and-mortars to screen films that often get overshadowed by Hollywood.
Mapping the emergence of another genre in animation
When Covid-19 shut down the US, and subsequently threatened to cancel the first African animation film festival, media and Black studies professor Boukary Sawadogo, borrowed from the creative entrepreneurship he studies in his scholarship. Initially scheduled in May, Sawadogo postponed the Harlem African Animation Festival to October. “In hopes of a possible reopening of movie theaters in New York City,” Sawadogo told Ark Republic that he “decided [to] proceed with a shortened, online edition.”
With a revised agenda, Sawadogo screened several animation films in November, much like other film festivals that adjusted their events. For Sawadogo, moving forward with the festival was essential in highlighting how Africa participates in the digital landscape. “The festival gives voice and presence to a lesser known African cinematic practice of animation and yet a thriving creative force currently sweeping across the continent,” said Sawadago.
Subsequently, the film fest’s debut brought the nascent industry of African animation to the fore. By screening films from emerging animators, it showed how Africa’s creatives are an extension of what is called cultural globalization—or the unintended consequences of migrants who pack and move their culture with them.
But for Africa, the history of colonialism and subsequent imposed post-colonial inequities derailed the continent’s ability to benefit from the spoils of the Industrial Revolution and modernity. Now, efforts to fast-track traditional culture means repackaging it in the digital landscape. African animation is one of the cultural artifacts used as a tool to teach folktales and customs, and create a globalized network inclusive of the African diaspora.
Although Sawaadogo focuses on Africa, the push to recognize Black animators is catching on in the US. This week, the Cartoon Network Studios announced a partnership with animation house Black Women Animate to establish the Black in Animation Awards Show. “Many Black animators have been doing this work for so long and are often overshadowed. This awards show will not only pay respect to them but also inspire the next wave of future Black animators, producers, and creatives alike,” he said.
Releasing art to honor ancestors, promote healing
Award winning documentarian, musician and 393 film house owner, Adimu Wolfhawkjaguar Madyun, powered through the toughest part of 2020 lockdown by tapping into his art and ancestral energy.
“There are moments in life when we believe in absolutely nothing and we ask our heart, ‘Is all this effort really worth it?’” Said Madyun to Ark Republic.
While stores and businesses shuttered, Madyun, a Los Angeles native now living in Oakland, finished a feature film then wrapped and dropped a video after production of the score for his movie. All filming took place between Cuba and Florida and was a years-long effort of guerilla filmmaking.
The film, Sango, The Story of A King, reflects Madyun’s long-time aesthetic fusing West African Yoruba culture and traditions into an Afro-surrealist aesthetic. Sango, is taken from the historical King of the Oyo nation, an earlier group now a part of the Yoruba peoples in West Africa. The character, also named Sango, was said to be given his name by the ancestors as a child. In the movie, he loses his mother at an early age and works to secure his village and confront the issues of growing up, while working to reignite a relationship with his childhood sweetheart Osun.
Coming from a creative parentage, Madyun’s mother, Iya Nedra T. Williams is a celebrated artist and designer who uses her relationship with water as a catalyst to the world of symbolic reflection. For years, she makes protection shields that fuse aesthetic and West African symbols that work as art and spiritual protection.
Madyun has several other films. One recent is Tent City, which captures gentrification in San Francisco. As well, Madyun has a recurring role on a popular soap opera in South Africa, but for now, is counting his blessings of staying busy and productive in a pandemic.
Small cinema and chill
Who opens a whole exhibition house in a panny? A Brooklyn girl. The honors go to Emelyn Stuart who dared anyone to challenge her insanely bold, yet incredibly ingenious idea.
“I opened an independent movie theater during one of the most challenging times in movie theater history. I am fortunate because my business plan included us showing [2nd run films] as content that was already available at home,” explained Stuart on Linkedin.
While some thought Stuart made any business sense, it was right on time. Recently, Warner Bros. announced that they have implemented a hybrid model as a response to theaters still shuttered during the Covid-19 health crisis. For the new business strategy, they plan to stream their silver screen releases on HBO and in movie houses. Using their screening services, Stuart purchased a projector and has also partnered with a INDY film company to run movies at Stuart Cinema & Cafe.
Stuart is part of a burgeoning cadre of entrepreneurs going old school for movie-watching. The summer saw independently-owned drive in theaters pop up. Although past experiences with small movie houses is distribution, Stuart remains optimistic. “I am confident that no matter what decisions our distributors make, we will be okay!” Wrote Stuart.
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