Maureen Blackwood and Elmina Davis a major inspiration in Black British Filmmaking. Both women have made their mark in film by producing radical, politically charged, ground breaking films made for the Black female gaze.
Blackwood’s films style is avant-garde as she uses a range of experimental methods to tell her stories. In her feature ‘Passions of Remembrance’, Blackwood explores the themes of family, race, sexuality and politics and she interrogates cultural stereotypes using a mosaic style, i.e. the track shots with a poetic narrative; cut next to ‘the hyper real’[i] where the subject faces the camera. This style is used in her film’ perfect image’.
Maureen Blackwood was born in England in 1960 and studied at the Media and the University of Westminster, then known as Westminster Polytechnic. In 1983 she became one of the founder members the Sankofa Film Collective, along with Isaac Julian, Martina Attille, Nadine Marsh Edwards and Robert Cruz. All members were recent graduates of media and film and were determined to tell their story of the Black British Experience.
Sankofa were one of several workshops supported by the GLC and Channel 4, which at the time was a new broadcasting channel encouraging diversity of television content while introducing a new perspective to British film and television audiences about the Black and Asian experience. Sankofa
L -R Martina Attille, Nadine Marsh-Edwards,Maureen Blackwood,Issac Julian
moved on to feature films which articulated the lives of young British Blacks. Using Avant Guard film techniques, Sankofa responded to the politics of police brutality and the unknown realms of Black Women’s subjectivity as well as black sexuality and gay issues.
PASSIONS OF REMEMBERANCE
Blackwood directed several distinct shorts films and her directorial debut came in 1986 with the feature-length ‘Passions of Remembrance’. The film began as a project called ‘systems of control’ which looked at the way policing takes intimate forms within black communities and their relationships with each other. The Sankofa members held regular workshops with the community as a way of providing some accountability in the images they would produce. The audience were sick of seeing images of Black people involved in civil disorder and asked for more positive images, what followed was a critique around what positive images were.
‘’Passions’’ uses a multi layered mosaic style to explore race, sexuality, gay issues, women’s issues and the generation gap. By using this style of filmmaking, Blackwood address’s all the issues clearly and distinctly, in a dialogue with the audience which is enlightening and entertaining.
‘Passions’ has two salient storylines one is of an allegorical radical man and woman in a deserted landscape. The radical Black Woman rebukes the radical Black Man for latent sexism in the Black Power movement. The second storyline is of the Baptiste family with the main character being a young feisty woman Maggie Baptiste who faces her peer’s accusations that issues round gay sexuality are not Black concerns.
The Baptistes are a functioning family unit. Coco Fusco notes that the dramatic narrative is:-
‘’devoted to the family to reveal the identity conflicts are generational and cultural’’ Unemployed Dad holds an outdated view of England and the West Indies while her brother has a romantic nostalgia of his grass roots radicalism.
Passions opened at the in the Metro Cinema London, alongside another experimental film ‘Handsworth Songs’ by the Black Audio Film collective. This was a first for two experimental Avant Garde to be in the cinema and made by Black directors from the workshops.
Elmina Davis was originally a self-taught camerawoman, documenting community issues in the Tottenham area. Davis’s work developed through a local grass-roots a film collective, ‘Ceddo’ founded by Imruh Bakari (Riots and Rumours of Riots) Menilick Shabbazz (Burning an Illusion) and Milton Bryan (Broadwater Farm the Peoples Account). The mission was to represent groups in a way that they had not being presented in mainstream television.
Ceddo were using guerrilla filmmaking techniques to respond the political unrest of Black Youths in the 1980’s, several shorts and documentaries were made including Davis’s ground breaking documentary ‘Omega Rising Women in Rastafari’ 1988. Using poetry, mythology, archive footage, interviews, music and dance as narrative devices, Davis reveals the journey to a higher consciousness for Jamaican and British Rastafarian women.
The film depicts Rastafarian women as being outspoken and progressive. Davis was a Rastafarian and has travelled extensively in Africa and the Caribbean. Her professional media experience to enabled her to conduct informative and engaging interviews with women who were of all ages and from every social stratum. ‘Omega Rising’ contradicts the ideas of Rasta women being viewed as inferior instead we see examples of intelligent the sisters rebelling against mainstream stereotypes of Rasta’s as being lazy, or unambitious which was the prominent thinking during the 1980’s.
Interviewee’s include Judy Mowatt a member of Bob Marley’s backing vocal trio ‘The I Three’ and a solo singer in her own right, talks intimately about her own journey into Rastafarianism. ‘Omega Rising’ interviewees provide the history of Rastafari from the feminine perspective, as it relates to the King James Bible, recognising Haile Selassie as a direct descendent of King Solomon and the writings of Marcus Garvey and Walter Rodney as a conduit for African empowerment.
Both Davis and Blackwood provided fresh perspectives on Black femininity and gender equality which had never been explored to this extent in British Film. Their work has become classics in Black British Cinema and is screened regularly around the world.
References :Young British and Black Coco Fusco 1988
BFI Screen Online Ceddo.