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Something Significant to Say About the Black Experience: Maya Cade on the Black Film Archive | Interviews

I’m sure it will be included when you get up to 1982. What are your criteria for this database?

It has something significant to say about the Black experience, and it can either speak to Black audiences, have a Black star, writer, producer, or director. And in the first iteration of Black Film Archives, that criterion for selection is broad. Because my intention, really is to that people aren’t feeling left behind. So really, for the first iteration. I wanted every film that has something significant to say about Black life is included, from the 1915 to 1979. And that it is available streaming. I had to leave out “Killer of Sheep” because it is not currently streaming anywhere and that breaks my heart. It’s one of those films that kind of pops up and goes away. Milestone has it and it was available for rent I would say, within the last six months, but for some reason it no longer is. 

You could not have picked a better image for the site’s home page than that mesmerizing mini-clip of a gorgeous dancer. What is that from?

That’s “Birthright” (1938) directed by Oscar Micheaux. 

These films tell us something about the era when they were made but distance can give us an appreciation beyond what viewers saw at the time.

Yes, for example “Sounder” is another film that challenges the conventions of what a Black film can be because it’s a film that talks about some of the worst atrocities that can happen to a singular family, but also does understand the love that exists there, and also talks about the role that Black women often have to do of stepping up for whatever reason when the patriarchy leaves. I just hope that this gets its due again.

I think some people will be surprised by the wide range of genres in the archive, everything from romance to thriller, horror, western, musical, drama, and comedy and films that transcend and play with genre. And there are some remarkable, even revolutionary gender issues.

Yes, we will be launching genre categories on the site soon. And a search box. “Aaron Loves Angela” is a great romance. There are those 30s thrillers, a lot of these films still religious allegories, but still playing with form, I think it’s quite fascinating. “Heaven-Bound Travelers” is a film made by a husband and wife, James Gist and Eloyce Gist. She wrote the scope for this 1935 film, and they were true companions in making the film. Even though it only exists in fragments, it’s really such a special film. This man falsely accuses his wife of adultery and abandons her and the child. It’s fascinating, what it says about womanhood. 

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