Newly Launched Black Film Archive Adds History and Context to Over 200 Films Made from 1915 to 1979

If you saw the most recent incarnation of “Candyman” from director Nia DaCosta — all of it shot in Chicago, some of which takes place amid the remaining Cabrini row houses — you might be compelled to go back and compare how other films have captured the same neighborhood. Namely 1975′s “Cooley High,” about a group of Black teenagers in the ‘60s, bonded by camaraderie, good times and (by the film’s end) rising tensions as they stare down the final weeks of their senior year of high school.

The script is from “Good Times” and “What’s Happening!!” creator Eric Monte, and the story is loosely autobiographical; he grew up in those very same row houses we see on screen and the lead character Preach (played by Glynn Turman) is a version of Monte himself.

You can search the internet to see where the film is streaming. Or you can also head over to the website for the Black Film Archive, which offers not only a synopsis of the film but a link to stream it. That’s how I learned that “Cooley High” is available on YouTube for free (with ad breaks).

Launched last week, the Black Film Archive is the brainchild of Maya Cade, who works as the audience development strategist at The Criterion Collection. But in her own time, she’s been developing a comprehensive register of more than 200 Black films made between 1915 and 1979 that are available to watch via streaming. It’s a labor intensive, impressive project and it is Cade’s response to a question she has been mulling for some time now: What does it mean to make Black film history accessible? “In a moment where Black films are being deeply associated with trauma, I hope you use this resource to learn more about Black films’ past,” she wrote on Twitter.

When we connected by phone, Cade talked about her habit of watching one film a day. “I have always leaned on Black cinema to sustain me. And I’ve tried to watch films that are new to me at least twice a week.” Organizing all that knowledge into a database came naturally. For now, the films — which include narrative features, shorts and documentaries — are categorized by decade.

Not sure where to get started? Scroll down the homepage and Cade has all kinds of films spotlighted, from 1971′s “Shaft” starring Richard Roundtree to 1927′s “Siren of the Tropics” starring Josephine Baker.

Though most streaming sites require a subscription (Cade says none of the titles she’s compiled are available on Netflix, interestingly enough), some of the films spotlighted are available for free, either through YouTube or because they are in the public domain or accessible through Kanopy, the streaming service available through public library memberships.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Chicago Tribune, Nina Metz

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