Making Faces on Film: A Collaboration with BFI Black Star

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The Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with the British Film Institute, presents Making Faces on Film, which highlights visions of black representation, empowerment, and exploitation in cinema from the silent-film era through the 1970s. On view April 18 through 26 in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, the series explores how images of blackness have been historically constructed and challenged both within and outside the mainstream film industry. Making Faces on Film, jointly inspired by the MoMA exhibition Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema and the recent BFI Black Star season, reflects the ethos of both—exploring representations of historical others in film, and the versatility and power of black actors.

Providing vital context for ongoing conversations about the complexities of representing race on screen, Making Faces on Film spotlights a range of iconic performances and forms of storytelling. The series includes the earliest known black-cast film, Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913), starring Bert Williams (who is highlighted here as America’s first pop star); the debut of Sidney Poitier in the taut race-relations noir No Way Out (1950); and a celebration of black female empowerment in the larger-than-life blaxploitation persona of Cleopatra Jones (1973), contrasted with Bush Mama (1975), a vérité-style docudrama from the LA Rebellion movement. A double feature of the delightful musical Stormy Weather (1943), starring Lena Horne and Bill Robinson, and Julie Dash’s Illusions (1982) depicts hard-won opportunities for black performers in the Golden Age of Hollywood. The film series also juxtaposes the iconic with the contemporary, with newly commissioned jazz accompaniment by Braxton Cook for the Body and Soul (1925) screening, and by Braxton Cook with Taber Gable for Lime Kiln Club Field Day.

Introductions by academics, including Michelle Materre, Brandon Harris, and Ed Guerrero, provide current perspectives, as does a night of recent short films by Ephraim Asili, Akosua Adoma Owusu, and Lauren Kelley on April 20, organized at The Studio Museum in Harlem. On April 17, in anticipation of the series, a special Modern Mondays evening with Ja’Tovia Gary presents a selection of screenings and a conversation with the Brooklyn-based filmmaker and documentarian, whose work centers on images of blackness, femininity, and nontraditional origins.

Organized by Dessane Cassell, Joint Fellow, Department of Film, MoMA, and The Studio Museum in Harlem; and Ashley Clark, Season Programmer, BFI Black Star in conjunction with the British Film Institute.

The exhibition is supported by the Annual Film Fund.