Steve McQueen has dedicated the five films in his anthology series Small Axe “to George Floyd and all the other black people that have been murdered, seen or unseen, because of who they are.” The title of the series is taken from an African proverb popularized by Bob Marley in his 1973 song of the same name: “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.”
- Spike Lee was to have presided over the jury in Cannes, and he still plans to do so next year. “One of the biggest criticisms of Do the Right Thing was that I did not provide the answer to racism at the end of the movie,” Lee tells the Los Angeles Times’ Josh Rottenberg. “And here we are in modern-day America, pandemic America, and cities are up in flames.” With Lee’s Da 5 Bloods set to premiere on Netflix on June 12, the New York Times’ A. O. Scott offers a primer on “an imposing and eclectic body of work” with “nine recommendations for essential Spike Lee viewing experiences.” In the Guardian, Arifa Akbar adds a tenth, Lee’s 2018 adaptation of Antoinette Nwandu’s play Pass Over, written in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin. It’s a film whose “awful eloquence serves equally as a reminder of injustices at the hands of the police and of besieged black American masculinity.”
- Filmmaker and critic Kent Jones has recently revisited Robert Drew’s 1963 documentary Crisis, “a remarkable work, on multiple levels” that tracks the Kennedy administration’s efforts to defuse a potentially explosive situation brought about when Alabama governor George Wallace refused to allow two black students to attend the University of Alabama. Ultimately, the administration’s solution was “quite brilliant—they really did outsmart Wallace.” Jones then notes in his short piece for the Film Foundation that years later, having survived an assassination attempt that nevertheless confined him to a wheelchair, Wallace “was wheeled into Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery,” where he read a statement asking for forgiveness. “In 1982, when he was re-elected for a fourth term as governor, he won ninety percent of the African-American vote . . . Wallace took two courses of action that would appear to seem terrifying, even impossible to many people right now. He apologized, and he changed.”
- In his ongoing series at the Ringer on the evolution of American cinema in light of succeeding administrations, from Kennedy’s through Trump’s, Adam Nayman has now arrived at Richard Nixon’s just as comparisons are being drawn between the current unrest and the watershed year Nixon was elected, 1968: “The white-hot polarities percolating throughout the United States—the heated struggle over desegregation, deepening stratifications of wealth, social movements oriented against and in defense of some vaguely defined but unmistakable status quo—were in the process of boiling over, and while Planet of the Apes’ box office dominance over 2001 had more to do with its giddy premise and A-list leading man than any kind of zeitgeist-surfing savvy, its superficially escapist pleasures came with a reality check: Why look to the stars when things are so thoroughly fucked on the ground?”
- Sarah Maldoror worked as an assistant to Gillo Pontecorvo on The Battle of Algiers (1966) and to William Klein on The Pan-African Festival of Algiers (1969) before making her first feature, Guns for Banta, in Guinea-Bissau in 1970. Though she was born in France and made several documentaries for French television, Maldoror will be remembered “as the mother of African cinema,” writes Celluloid Liberation Front for the Los Angeles Review of Books. “The Parisian banlieue or the Angolan maquis were in her mind and films, part of the same front against European colonialism and its neoliberal permutations. Instead of retreating into the safe haven of nostalgia, she kept fighting in a world heading in the opposite direction she and her comrades had fought for.”
- Finally for now, a few suggestions for home viewing. On the Criterion Channel, we’re making work by such filmmakers as Oscar Micheaux, Maya Angelou, Julie Dash, William Greaves, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye, Charles Burnett, Khalik Allah, and Leilah Weinraub freely available to everyone, including nonsubscribers. Film at Lincoln Center has posted a collection of dialogues conducted with Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, Dee Rees, Yance Ford, and other filmmakers. On Monday and Tuesday, Jamie Stuart went out into the streets of Los Angeles and captured scenes of protesters marching past shuttered movie theaters; to be continued . . . is a disconcerting snapshot of this moment. And D Magazine’s Peter Simek introduces Ya’Ke Smith’s urgent and arresting nine-minute film, Dear Bruh: A Eulogy. A Baptism. A Call to Action.