Black Lives

Black Lives

30 Episodes

Black Lives Matter, and art has a role to play in centering and celebrating the experiences of black people. These films focus on the dreams, struggles, desires, and art of black characters and real-life subjects. From rediscovered gems by mavericks of early African American cinema like Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams, to independent-film landmarks by Charles Burnett and Julie Dash, to documentary portraits of black artists by white filmmakers Les Blank and Shirley Clarke, to innovative contemporary work by Khalik Allah, these films offer an invitation to reflect on the resilience and creativity of black individuals and communities in the United States and beyond.

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Black Lives
  • Body and Soul

    Episode 1

    Directed by Oscar Micheaux • 1925 • United States
    Starring Paul Robeson, Mercedes Gilbert, Lawrence Chenault

    Although the 1920s brought him acclaim as a stage actor and singer, Paul Robeson still had to prove himself as a viable screen performer. Mainstream avenues were limited, however, and his...

  • The Scar of Shame

    Episode 2

    Directed by Frank Perugini • 1929 • United States
    Starring Harry Henderson, Lucia Lynn Moses, Lawrence Chenault

    When a young woman (Lucia Moses) escapes from her abusive father (William E. Pettus), she is rescued by an aspiring composer (Harry Henderson), but encounters opposition from his class...

  • The Blood of Jesus

    Episode 3

    Directed by Spencer Williams • 1941 • United States
    Starring Cathryn Caviness, Spencer Williams, Juanita Riley

    The first feature by director/actor Spencer Williams (commonly remembered today as Andy on TV’s “Amos ’n’ Andy”), THE BLOOD OF JESUS is a rural religious parable in which a woman (Cathr...

  • Black Girl

    Episode 4

    Directed by Ousmane Sembène • 1966 • Senegal
    Starring M’Bissine Thérèse Diop

    Ousmane Sembène was one of the greatest and most groundbreaking filmmakers who ever lived, as well as the most renowned African director of the twentieth century—and yet his name still deserves to be better known in ...

  • Portrait of Jason

    Episode 5

    Directed by Shirley Clarke • 1967 • United States
    Starring Jason Holliday

    On the night of December 2, 1966, Shirley Clarke and a tiny crew convened in her apartment at the Hotel Chelsea to make a film. For twelve straight hours, they filmed the one-and-only Jason Holliday as he spun tales, sang,...

  • Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One

    Episode 6

    Directed by William Greaves • 1968 • United States
    Starring William Greaves, Patricia Ree Gilbert, Don Fellows

    In his one-of-a-kind fiction/documentary hybrid SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM TAKE ONE, director William Greaves presides over a beleaguered film crew in New York’s Central Park, leaving them t...

  • Several Friends

    Episode 7

    Directed by Charles Burnett • 1969 • United States

    Charles Burnett’s first film already displays the director’s neorealist, poetry-of-the-everyday style as it follows a group of friends over the course of an aimless day in Los Angeles.

    Limited engagement ends September 30

  • Black Panthers

    Episode 8

    Directed by Agnès Varda • 1970 • United States

    Agnès Varda turns her camera on an Oakland demonstration against the imprisonment of activist and Black Panthers cofounder Huey P. Newton. In addition to evincing Varda’s fascination with her adopted surroundings and her empathy, this perceptive sho...

  • A Well Spent Life

    Episode 9

    Directed by Les Blank • 1971 • United States

    A deeply moving tribute to the Texas songster, Mance Lipscomb, considered by many to be the greatest guitarist of all time.

  • Dry Wood
    37:17
    Episode 10

    Dry Wood

    Episode 10

    Directed by Les Blank • 1973 • United States

    A portrait of black Creole life in the Louisiana Delta.

  • The Horse
    13:51
    Episode 11

    The Horse

    Episode 11

    Directed by Charles Burnett • 1973 • United States

    A young boy keeps a horse company during its last moments of life in Charles Burnett’s spare, lyrical student film, which poignantly contrasts the callousness of adults with the empathy of children.

    Limited engagement ends September 30

  • Ganja & Hess

    Episode 12

    Directed by Bill Gunn • 1973 • United States
    Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn

    Straining the conventions of blaxploitation and horror through a singular avant-garde sensibility, Bill Gunn’s revolutionary independent landmark GANJA & HESS is a highly stylized and utterly original tre...

  • Babylon
    1:35:47
    Episode 13

    Babylon

    Episode 13

    Directed by Franco Rosso • 1980 • United Kingdom, Italy
    Starring Brinsley Forde, David N. Haynes, Trevor Laird

    A long-lost reggae classic reemerges. Suppressed following its Cannes premiere for fear that it would stoke racial tension, Franco Rosso’s incendiary portrait of sound-system culture...

  • PERSONAL PROBLEMS: Volume 1

    Episode 14

    Directed by Bill Gunn • 1980 • United States
    Starring Vertamae Grosvenor, Walter Cotton, Jim Wright

    Bill Gunn’s follow-up to his underground landmark GANJA & HESS was the result of an extraordinary collaboration with renowned writer Ishmael Reed, who described the project as a “meta–soap opera” ...

  • PERSONAL PROBLEMS: Volume 2

    Episode 15

    Directed by Bill Gunn • 1980 • United States
    Starring Vertamae Grosvenor, Walter Cotton, Jim Wright

    Bill Gunn’s follow-up to his underground landmark GANJA & HESS was the result of an extraordinary collaboration with renowned writer Ishmael Reed, who described the project as a “meta–soap opera” ...

  • Losing Ground

    Episode 16

    Directed by Kathleen Collins • 1982 • United States
    Starring Seret Scott, Bill Gunn, Duane Jones

    One of the first feature films directed by an African American woman, Kathleen Collins’s LOSING GROUND tells the story of a marriage between two remarkable people, both at a crossroads in their lives...

  • Suzanne, Suzanne

    Episode 17

    Directed by Camille Billops and James Hatch • 1982 • United States

    One of the many films that Camille Billops and James Hatch made centering on Billops’s family, SUZANNE, SUZANNE presents a devastating portrait of the artist’s niece, haunted by the abuse she suffered as a child and the passivity...

  • Cane River

    Episode 18

    Directed by Horace Jenkins • 1982 • United States
    Starring Richard Romain, Tommye Myrick, Carol Sutton

    Written, produced, and directed by the late, trailblazing director Horace B. Jenkins and crafted by an entirely African American cast and crew, this luminous, recently rediscovered landmark of ...

  • My Brother's Wedding

    Episode 19

    Directed by Charles Burnett • 1983 • United States
    Starring Everett Silas, Jessie Holmes, Gaye Shannon-Burnett

    Recut and restored twenty-five years after its ill-fated premiere, Charles Burnett’s second feature is an eye-opening revelation—wise, funny, heartbreaking, and timeless. Pierce Mund...

  • Bless Their Little Hearts

    Episode 20

    Directed by Billy Woodberry • 1984 • United States
    Starring Nate Hardman, Kaycee Moore, Angela Burnett

    Scripted and shot by Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry’s slice-of-life revelation is a key masterpiece of the LA Rebellion, the black independent-cinema renaissance that emerged from UCLA’s film...

  • Sidewalk Stories

    Episode 21

    Directed by Charles Lane • 1989 • United States
    Starring Charles Lane, Nicole Alysia, Tom Alpern

    An unsung miracle of American independent filmmaking, SIDEWALK STORIES reworks Charlie Chaplin’s slapstick classic THE KID for 1980s New York. Writer-director Charles Lane casts himself as a modern-d...

  • Daughters of the Dust

    Episode 22

    Directed by Julie Dash • 1991 • United States
    Starring Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbara O. Jones

    Julie Dash’s rapturous vision of black womanhood and vanishing ways of life in the turn-of-the-century South was the first film directed by an African American woman to receive a wide release. In ...

  • When it Rains

    Episode 23

    Directed by Charles Burnett • 1995 • United States

    Charles Burnett paints a jazz- and poetry-inflected portrait of African American community and resilience via the story of a mother who enlists a musician’s help when she is evicted on New Year’s Day.

    Limited engagement ends September 30

  • The Watermelon Woman

    Episode 24

    Directed by Cheryl Dunye • 1996 • United States
    Starring Cheryl Dunye, Guinevere Turner, Valarie Walker

    Cheryl Dunye’s bitingly funny, deeply personal feature debut is a landmark look at the black lesbian experience. The director herself stars as Cheryl, a twenty-something lesbian struggling to ...