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BFI announce Black Star season to celebrate landmark black cinema

David Oyelowo

Story by Jack Foley

THE BFI has announced a new season called Black Star, the UK’s biggest ever season of film and television dedicated to celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors.

The landmark season arrives at a time when diversity is firmly under the spotlight of the film industry and aims to shine a light on the strong characters and trail-blazing performances that inhabit black cinema, bringing them to the widest possible audience.

The season will spotlight such things as the leading men of classic Hollywood cinema, from Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to Jamie Foxx and the hugely popular Samuel L Jackson, as well as stars as political activists – the great Paul Robeson and Lena Horne through to Danny Glover and Beyoncé.

It will also celebrate the actors who have gone on to be major power players, who can open films, get films made, from Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith to Denzel Washington, as well as honouring British home-grown talent with star power who have gained international acclaim and found significant leading roles in the US, such as Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Okonedo and David Oyelowo (pictured above in Selma).

Highlights of BFI Black Star include…

The release of two major films into cinemas across the UK (with a third to be announced soon):

- John Singleton’s game-changing, Oscar®-nominated Boyz n the Hood (1991), starring Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long and Angela Bassett, will be re-released during the season in association with Park Circus and Sony Pictures

Park Circus will re-release Norman Jewison’s multi Oscar®-winning In The Heat of the Night (1967), starring Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger and Warren Oates.

- Over 275 bespoke screenings and events in over 90 different locations right across the UK, delivered through the BFI Film Audience Network (BFI FAN) and its partners.

- A new audience-led poll to discover the British public’s Best Black Screen Performances of All Time, with two of the top films brought to major, independent and community cinemas across the UK, through a partnership with the Independent Cinema Office (ICO).

- Black Star events at BFI Southbank include a special on-stage reunion with Trix Worrell, the creator of Desmond’s and members of the cast including Carmen Munroe and Robbie Gee.

- An agenda-setting Symposium event at the BFI London Film Festival (LFF) – the UK’s leading film festival - bringing together leading international filmmakers and industry professionals from both sides of the Atlantic to question why opportunities for black actors to shine on screen in the US and the UK remain limited and ask what more can be done to effect positive change.

- A ◦landmark two-month film season at BFI Southbank, programmed by Ashley Clark, exploring the rich history of ‘transatlantic stardom’ and focusing on key historical moments and important stars for British audiences.

- New BFI Blu-ray and DVD releases including the first ever Dual Format Edition of The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992), and Blu-ray release of Carmen Jones (Otto Preminger, 1954); Dual Format Editions of Odds Against Tomorrow (Robert Wise, 1959) and Paris Blues (Martin Ritt, 1961); DVD release of The Glass Shield (Charles Burnett, 1994); separate Blu-ray and DVD box sets of Pioneers of African-American Cinema.

- A new BFI book, the Black Star Compendium, from a hand-picked selection of outstanding cultural writers, investigating the history and responding to the theme of black stardom in film and TV, to be published on 17 October.
- An extensive collection of over 50 titles made available online to audiences through BFI Player.

- And an exciting education programme in partnership with Into Film which includes a dedicated strand at the Into Film Festival, featuring contemporary black British talent and a BFI Schools event with Floella Benjamin.

Heather Stewart, Creative Director of the BFI, commented: “Imagine cinema history without Paul Robeson, Dorothy Dandridge, Sidney Poitier, Pam Grier, and Samuel L Jackson – some of the greatest actors to light up our screens with their charisma and talent. Now imagine how much richer our shared memory would be, had the opportunities available to black actors matched their abilities.

“With Black Star we are celebrating great performances and bringing them back to the big screen for everyone to enjoy. And we are also asking searching questions, of our industry and of ourselves, driven by a passion to meet the expectations of audiences who rightly expect to see their stories and aspirations reflected on screen.”

The BFI’s Black Star season runs from October 17 to December 31, 2016.