Baldwin’s Nigger and Reggae
Friday, February 24, 2017
Gallery 992 | 8:00 pm
$10 admission | Tickets available on EventbriteCo-sponsored by Liquid Blackness, the Department of Film & Media Studies and the James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory University
Horace Ové, CBE, may be best known for Pressure (1976), the first feature film by a black director in Britain. But earlier in his career came two remarkable political documentaries produced in the wake of Black Power – one a document of James Baldwin at peak intensity, and the other an examination of reggae at the very beginning of its international emergence.
The 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro has shown all over again the importance of James Baldwin’s ideas and the ever-powerful force of his literary voice. Horace Ové’s film Baldwin’s Nigger documents a 1969 appearance by Baldwin and Dick Gregory at London’s West Indian Student Centre. In an extemporized address to a packed room, Baldwin undertakes a complex examination of the experience of blackness, in history and in the immediate context of the American war in Vietnam.
Always a magnetic presence, Baldwin is at his most riveting in this film. Following his talk is an animated back-and-forth between the audience of students, activists, and community members and Baldwin, who responds in the moment to questions about integration, the difference between “Negro” and “black,” and the role of white liberals in Black Power. Ové’s film, rather than simply celebrating a famous writer, preserves the integrity of Baldwin’s encounter with his audience. Baldwin’s Nigger is thus a valuable document not only of Baldwin, but of the West Indian Student Centre itself, and of a black community in Britain finding the way through a fraught political moment.
Reggae is a very early documentary about the political significance of Jamaican music’s emergence in Britain. Filmed partly at a 1970 concert in Wembley Stadium and containing performances by Desmond Dekker, the Maytals and other superstars, Reggae is nonetheless something other than a concert film. Found footage, street photography, interviews with fans and music industry figures combine with the vintage performances to create a sharp and textured report that captures its moment and looks forward to reggae’s worldwide acceptance and its influence on the imminent development of British punk.
Though quite different from each other, both of these films touch on themes of immigration, integration, and black culture across borders. Their immediate context was the West Indian experience in Britain in the era of Black Power, but Horace Ové’s prescience as a filmmaker ensures they remain ever-relevant to us, here, today, in the era of Black Lives Matter, and beyond.
Baldwin’s Nigger (Horace Ové, 1969) 45 minutes
Reggae (Horace Ové, 1971) 60 minute
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