film fatales #206: showing up (kelly reichardt, 2022)
goodbye, dragon inn (tsai ming-liang, 2003)

african-american directors series: is that black enough for you ?!? (elvis mitchell, 2022)

This is the thirty-second film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 32 is called "Remembering Belafonte Week":


With his glowing, handsome face and silky-husky voice, [Harry] Belafonte was one of the first Black performers to gain a wide following on film and to sell a million records as a singer; many still know him for his signature hit "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)," and its call of "Day-O! Daaaaay-O." But he forged a greater legacy once he scaled back his performing career in the 1960s and lived out his hero Paul Robeson’s decree that artists are "gatekeepers of truth."

He stands as the model and the epitome of the celebrity activist. Few kept up with Belafonte’s time and commitment and none his stature as a meeting point among Hollywood, Washington and the civil rights movement.

This week, your task is to watch a film starring Harry Belafonte as we mark the first anniversary of his passing. Whether as an actor, singer, or activist, Belafonte was a formidable force, and the world is made poorer by his absence, yet undoubtedly richer in the wake of his presence.

It's a bit of a cheat to use this documentary as "a film starring Harry Belafonte," although it appears on the list we are supplied, so it's not an official cheat. Belafonte is fairly prominent, both as an example of black cinema and as a commentator on cinema. But the driving force behind Black Enough is writer/director Elvis Mitchell. whose career as a film critic spans more than 40 years.

The films that Mitchell chooses to demonstrate how blackness was presented in films are the usual. Two things make Black Enough especially valuable. First, he has a good selection of commentators, not just Belafonte, but also people like Laurence Fishburne, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Margaret Avery, and Billy Dee Williams. Since Mitchell's primary focus is on the Black cinema of the 70s, he gives us Antonio Fargas, Glynn Turman, and others. There are behind the scenes people like director Charles Burnett and producer Suzanne De Passe. Even Zendaya turns up, saying "We have so many stories to tell. We just wanna see more of us existing in all different forms, and I think that is a common frustration, I think, amongst my peers. We just wanna see us just being kids or, like, in sci-fi, whatever."

It's Mitchell's take on 70s Black Cinema that is most important for the film. His vast knowledge of film matters, but he also shows a genuine affection for the movies and stars of the day that don't always get positive reactions. Pam Grier was almost a genre all by herself. Mitchell doesn't just show us Superfly, he talks about the sequels. And he discusses the more mainstream films of the day like Sounder and Lady Sings the Blues. There is a lot to learn from Black Enough, but Mitchell never talks down to his audience.


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