There are art movies, commercial movies, and movies produced for their social impact, but rarely does a commercial movie theater make it a point to screen socially conscious foreign and domestic films on a regular basis. Reason: They don't sell tickets. Or rather, they don't sell enough tickets to make it worthwhile to the average movie exhibitor. But there's an exception to this rule, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it's in Oakland: the African Diaspora Cinema series at the Parkway Speakeasy Theater.
Started almost fifteen years ago by Taylor Fischer, a former public school administrator who happens to be the mother of Speakeasy co-owner Kyle Fischer, the monthly series grew out of Ms. Fischer's frustration with what she sees as the marginalization of the African and African-American experience in popular film culture. She attended the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, and suddenly it hit her: "I had not been a film person but I took this opportunity to sit in the movie theater morning, noon, and night watching films I had no idea existed," wrote Fischer in response to our query. "They changed me. They pointed me toward the center. When people tell their own stories they center themselves."
She came back and eventually began screening videos of such films as Raoul Peck's Man by the Shore, Estela Bravo's Fidel, and Black Russian by Kara Lynch, in addition to work by such classic African-American filmmakers as Charles Burnett, to small but enthusiastic audiences, Sunday afternoons once a month at the Parkway. "Oakland has the ability to give a glorious audience," notes Fischer. "Mostly seekers, as you can tell from the post-screening discussions." And always multi-everything — racial, ethnic, and gender.
Beginning Sunday, May 4 (2 p.m., $5) with a showing of Moussa Sene Absa's Tableau Ferraille, a 1997 Senegalese drama of a politician whose two wives present him with a political dilemma, the early-summer schedule is purely African. The hard-hitting anti-colonialist documentary White King, Red Rubber, Red Death — a 2003 Belgian production by filmmaker Peter Bate chronicling the bloody exploitation of the Congo — follows on June 1. Then on July 6, it's a fable about a Congolese potentate who arrives in Brussels to find his errant daughter: filmmaker Mweze Ngangura's 1998 Pièces d'identités. Later in the summer, promises Fischer, the series will swing back to works by African-American artists. To learn more, visit. Parkway-Speakeasy.com
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