This issue of Black Camera begins the fifth year of publication and partnership with Indiana University Press. It also marks the fourth installment of Close-Up, a series devoted to a film, filmmaker, genre, or area of Black filmmaking. The first in the series addressed the seminal film Nothing But a Man (1964) by Michael Roemer and Robert Young; the second, Precious (2009) by Lee Daniels, followed by Teza (2008), by the Ethiopian-American Haile Gerima.
In this Close-Up, guest editor Terri Francis has assembled a compelling collection of essays, interview, programmatic statement, images, and commentaries about Afrosurrealism—a little understood, understudied, and elusive subject. Together they cohere to render comprehensible a Black surreal that "re-center[s] blackness at the core of surrealism and modernism, not as catalytic matter but as the manifestations of black artists' own modalities."
Francis's introduction, "The No-Theory Chant of Afrosurrealism," invokes antecedents of Afrosurrealism across the arts, from Martiniquan Suzanne Césaire's discussion of the "revolutionary impetus of surrealism" in the 1940s, to Haitian novelist Jaques Stephen Alexis's "Marvelous Realism" of the 1950s, to Amiri Baraka’s coinage of the term Afro-Surrealist Expressionism in his 1988 essay on Black Arts Movement avant-garde writer Henry Dumas, to cinematographer Arthur Jafa’s discussion of “the alien familiar” in cinema: “If a work … is able to conjure what a Black cinema would be … it should be both alien because you’ve never seen anything quite like it, and at the same time, it should be familiar on some level to Black audiences.” The accompanying essays on Sun Ra, Kara Walker, and William Greaves’s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, compellingly display Afrosurrealism’s grammar, temporal, spatial, and aesthetic features, and deployment.
Moreover, Francis’s interview with experimental filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson, along with the D. Scot Miller Afrosurreal manifesto, prods our imaginations, as do the filmmakers’ journals by Tony Cokes and Ina Diane Archer, and Nzingha Kendall’s commentary on “haunting” in the experimental films of Akosua Adoma Owusu. The Close-Up is further enhanced by the Close-Up Gallery, consisting of film stills by and discussion of five up-and-coming Afrosurrealist filmmakers.
This issue includes three distinctive essays: First, Ellen C. Scott’s lead piece on the subversion by Black exhibitors of Hollywood studio promotional materials on Black spectatorship. Next, Toni Pressley-Sanon’s explication of the “act” of witnessing as liberatory in two films, Haitian Corner (1988) and l’Homme Sur le Quais / The Man by the Shore (1993) by Raoul Peck. And Joi Carr’s critique of the “perverse ideological structures about beauty” in Chris Rock’s controversial documentary Good Hair (2009).
Also included in this issue is an interview with Madeline Anderson, pioneering African American filmmaker whose documentary work contributed in no small measure to the development of a Black documentary tradition in the 1960s and 1970s.
Of no less interest, consider Wole Soyinka’s address, “A Name Is More Than the Tyranny of Taste,” from this year’s FESPACO, along with regular Africultures contributor Olivier Barlet’s assessment of FESPACO 2013 and Leah Kerr’s guest archival spotlight essay, “Collectors’ Contributions to Archiving Early Black Film.”