Black Arts Movement movie directors visit

Documentary directed by WSU Vancouver faculty shines light on international impacts of black arts, shows today



The Black Arts Movement that began in Harlem in the 1960s later spread to Chicago, with poets, authors, musicians, singers and artists all contributing.

JOEL KEMEGUE, Evergreen mint editor

“BAM! Chicago’s Black Arts Movement” is the newest documentary from WSU Vancouver professors, and it details the history of the Chicago Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s.

The professors and directors will show the movie today in the Fine Arts Building and host a Q&A session afterwards.

The two professors and directors, Thabiti Lewis and Pavithra Narayanan, spent three and a half years doing research, getting interviews, and putting the film together. The project began when Lewis was collecting interviews for a section of his book on the Black Arts Movement.

“I’ve always been interested in the Black Arts Movement,” Lewis said. “And then as I began to study the full breadth of it … I really realized it is one of the more creative and intelligent moments, not just in African American literature, but in American culture.”

As Lewis gathered footage from the interviews, he decided to make a film to go along with the book, and he brought in Professor Narayanan to make the film with him.

“I got an even better understanding of how history is made,” Narayanan said. “To just hear and learn from them, where they came from, what inspired them … it was incredible.”

The Black Arts Movement started in 1965 when poet Amiri Baraka founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem, which became a haven for black artists, according to a timeline from Washington University in St. Louis.

From there, the arts saw a wave of new black poets, authors, musicians, actors, singers and artists producing work that highlighted and explored the African American experience, often inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis said.

Artists like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and Sun Ra emerged and thrived during this period as their works gained recognition, he said. The Black Arts Movement also saw the rise of black-owned literary presses, theatre companies and journals that further pushed and supported the rise in black arts, he said.

“What they created really lives on,” Narayanan said. “All of these authors had an impact on the arts … and I would say that impact goes beyond any particular nation.”

With the documentary, Lewis and Narayanan hope to show a different side of American arts and history. The film will show interviews with leading figures from the Black Arts Movement and recount its history and effect on America.

The film will be shown today, September 11 from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Building, Room 5062, followed by a Q&A with the directors. It is free to the public.