#BlackHistoryMonth is now a recognised celebration and education in Black History, taking place officially every October. Originating in American, the annual observance is now recognised across the world - and this now includes the U.K. too.
Last month, we used social media to highlight some of the films from the EIFF back catalogue that celebrate, teach us about and support Black lives, creativity, culture and achievements. Here is the full list of our film recommendations, including our final choice - Def by Temptation. We look forward to continuing and expanding our inclusion of Black and diverse voices in our future festival programmes.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
"One of America's most important films." - Film 4
The 1990s were an important time for Black cinema, with Boyz n the Hood screening at EIFF in 1991. This stark coming-of-age movie was pivotal in taking audiences away from mainstream narratives.
Tre Styles moves to an L.A. neighbourhood consumed by gang violence and the drug epidemic to live with his father. The film saw Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr. in breakout roles and was a compassionate and visceral look at urban America that still resonates today.
The late director John Singleton drew on inspiration from his own life to write the script & was only 24 when he wrote and directed the movie! This makes him both the first first African American and the youngest ever filmmaker to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars®.
In 2014, Singleton accused Hollywood of failing to promote Black directors. Film studios “want Black people to be who they want them to be, as opposed to what they are.” Meanwhile, Boyz n the Hood remains a highly influential powerhouse of ‘90s Black cinema.
“A sobering, haunting but completely fresh look at Whitney's life and death that will reframe everything you think you know about the singer.” - Empire Magazine
Whitney Houston is one of the world's best loved music icons, encouraging even the most unlikely dancers onto the floor! The singer made her acting debut in The Bodyguard (1992), recording songs for the soundtrack - including a version of ‘I Will Always Love You’
Following her tragic death in 2012, the documentary explores Whitney's life and career. Using exclusive recordings and rare performances, Whitney lets us bask in her supreme talent, but the joy is often short-lived to reveal the singer’s private suffering behind the scenes.
Combining archival footage and interviews with those who knew her best, Whitney is also a tough, unsparing look at the devastating lows she suffered. From drug-taking, to facing fame and motherhood, its an honest depiction of ‘a little girl trying to find her way back home’.
Granted the emotional depth it deserves, there is an unflinching side to this film that doesn’t shy away from implicating those closest to her in the artist’s down-fall. But, despite the story’s ending, there is comfort in the singer’s joyous, compelling performance. This is an essential and electrifying look at the life of a true icon.
House Party (1990)
House Party screened at EIFF back in 1990, as part of the strand ‘Coming of Age of Black Cinema’! It’s a highly entertaining coming-of-age comedy, as Kid, grounded by his parents, does all he can to get to Play’s house party in town - the house party to end all house parties.
The film is 30 years old this year! Written and directed by Reginald Hudlin, its release contributed to a significant rise in interest in Black cinema. Showing feel-good black joy on screen, its infectious energy gives it a universal appeal that makes it a must-watch.
Hudlin loved Luther Vandross’s 1982 classic hit ‘Bad Boy/ Having a Party’. He commented ‘at the time, Black music videos weren’t really a thing, so I would come up with a music video in my head to a song’ - the music video he imagined became House Party!
The film stars popular hip hop duo Kid ’n Play in the lead roles, who coincidentally first met each other in real life… at a house party! There is an iconic dance scene in the film that will definitely get you into the mood to groove... his fast-paced and high-spirited film really is one hell of a party!
Farming won the top accolade at the 73rd festival, taking away the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film. The EIFF jury spoke of Farming as an ‘important, powerful and disturbing film [forcing] us to confront an unfamiliar, uncomfortable reality’.
Writer-director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje delved into his own childhood for this enthralling drama. Enitan is left in the care of a British foster family by his Nigerian parents, who hope it will provide him with a better future. Instead, teenaged Enitan joins a skinhead gang.
Shining a light on a lesser-known area of race relations in Britain, it is a personal and moving tale of a young boy led astray. Farming has become a point of familiarity and comforting reference for other Nigerian-British children who have experienced similar situations.
A superbly moving portrait of 1960s Britain, Farming tackling themes of identity, home and belonging with an uneasy authenticity. This brilliantly unflinching portrayal of British racism is the honest history we all need to watch.
Def by Temptation (1990)
Not quite in time for Halloween, our final recommendation for Black History Month is the comedy horror Def by Temptation, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kadeem Hardison, Bill Nunn and its writer-director James Bond III.
Rated #11 in Rotten Tomatoes's list of 'Essential Black Horror Movies', the film made its EIFF appearance in 1990 as part of the strand 'Coming of Age of Black Cinema' alongside the aforementioned House Party (1990), as well as To Sleep With Anger (1990) and Small Time (1990).
Joel (played by Bond) is a divinity student, who, when faced with a crisis of faith, heads to New York to meet his childhood friend K. When the two head out on a bar-crawl, they are enchanted by a beautiful seductress... but when her demon spirit is revealed, luring men to their death, the friends must turn to a drunken cop to tackle this supernatural temptress!
On the surface, this film is a classic horror, but Bond brings emotional depth and character to the plot. The friendship between Joel and K is infused with personality, using a genuine friendship to remove any common clichés from this thriller. Bond took a genre that was tired and repetitive in 1990 and very literally, using an all-Black cast and nearly an all-Black crew, put fresh faces to it.