A century of black life in two days

  • Aneesha Bedi, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Feb 14, 2015 12:36 IST

For American writer Ted Johnsay, black history doesn’t mean it’s historical, but that there is appreciation “for things that have happened in the past and for the inspiration that has gotten us here today”.

The stories of civil rights heroes and their fight for justice have been brought to a two-day film festival at Panjab University (PU) that opened on Friday. The American Center, University School of Open Learning (USOL), and Cinedarbaar are behind the Black History Month shows. Think of it an annual celebration of black American achievements. It has its origin in Negro History Week event that Carter G Woodsen started to coincide with the birth anniversaries of former US president Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Frederick Douglass.

The festival opened with “The Rosa Parks Story” by Julie Dash, which is about the life experiences of the first lady of civil rights. Oprah Winfrey-starrer “Beloved”, based on Toni Morrison’s novel about a slave visited by the slave of her dead daughter, was next.

“Black History Month is an opportunity to honour and reflect on the experiences and contributions of African-Americans, from slavery to the present day,” American Center cultural affairs officer Jonathan Kesselar said during the film festival. The centre hopes the movies will generate discussion about tolerance and diversity, values that US President Barack Obama mentioned in his Siri Fort Auditorium address in New Delhi on his last visit.About how the movies were selected, he said the centre wanted to cover a variety of topics relevant to the African-American experience, including the civil rights movement, history of slavery, and social activism. The film “42” is the story of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the colour barrier in Major League Baseball. “Beloved” and “12 Years a Slave” show the audience what life was like in the pre-Civil War years of the United States, and the effects that slavery had on the African-American community.

“Talk to Me” is the biographical sketch of a radio jockey and touches upon the issues of community and social activism. “Talk to Me”, “42” and “12 Years a Slave” will run on the second day of the festival. Kesslar is keen to take these stories of courage to the audience in major north Indian cities, besides the national capital. “Cinema is a good medium of awareness. We might also organise film festivals in Ludhiana and Jaipur,” he said.

Archana Ojha, associate professor from Kamala Nehru College, New Delhi, who organised the pre- and post-screening interactions, said the US was a country of contradictions. “The Americans are trying to project that although they have dark shades in their history, they are trying to erase racism to integrate the blacks in American society,” she said. aneesha.bedi@hindustantimes.com

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