Film and the Arts


July ’64
2004 documentary by ImageWordSound Production Company, presented by Independent Television Service, National Black Programming Consortium, and WXXI-TV. Directed by Carvin Eison. Produced by Chris Christopher. A discussion guide for this documentary is available here.

Aging Trees of Knowledge II: Command of Sankofa, Servant Leader, Dr. David Anderson
This documentary focuses on historian Dr. David Anderson, who is considered by many to be a Maulana, a master teacher. Here Dr. Anderson talks about the influence that African American Rochesterians such as Frederick Douglass and Austin Steward had on American history, his search for his own past, and the long term effects of community service carried out by a group of teenagers in the 1960s. Led by Dr. Anderson, their research resulted in legislation banning lead from paint and other products in the United States.

The Central Park Five (PBS)
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns teams with his daughter Sarah and her husband David McMahon to examine the facts in the case of five minority teens from Harlem who in 1989 were accused of committing a heinous rape in Central Park, and the failure of the authorities and the media to ensure that justice was served. Hastily tried and convicted as racial tensions in New York City spiked, the innocent teens all served time in prison before a serial rapist shocked authorities by admitting sole responsibility for the brutal sexual assault.

Hidden Figures
Amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘colored computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
Audience: children
Based on the New York Times bestselling book and the Academy Award-nominated movie, author Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrator Laura Freeman bring the incredibly inspiring true story of four black women who helped NASA launch men into space to picture book readers.

Amazing Grace (2018)
Aretha Franklin, America’s greatest singer, at the peak of her powers in an African American church.

Black Girl (1966)
Seminal work of African cinema, showing the universality of racism.

Nothing but a Man (1964)
A landmark independent film, the first dramatic story featuring a largely black cast created for an integrated audience.

King: a Filmed Record–Montgomery to Memphis (1970)

Movies of Color: Black Southern Cinema (2002)
A portrait of independent African American filmmaking.

That’s Black Entertainment
Celebrating Legendary Black Actors.

Paris is Burning
This poignant, well-received documentary reveals the community of gay Black and Latino men living in New York City who cross-dress as women and invent the dance style of “voguing,” imitating the fashion poses on the covers of the magazine Vogue. As director Jennie Livingston discovers, these men band together into family-like “houses” for protection, taking the same last names and competing in drag balls where awards are given out for authenticity or “realness,” as well as other categories like “evening wear” and “executive wear.” Both an embrace and a refutation of the world of high fashion, the balls become the social locus of this underclass, underground society of outcasts defiantly refusing to be ignored by a world that scorns them. Paris Is Burning was one of several critically acclaimed documentaries of the late 1980s and early 1990s excluded from Academy Award nominations, eventually leading to a reappraisal of the Academy’s stodgy selection process.


Black Panther
In an interview with TIME, Director Ryan Coogler said that Black Panther tackles an important genre: “Superhero films that deal with issues of being of African descent.” Black Panther is possibly the first megabudget movie with an African American director and a predominantly black cast.

Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is crowned the king of Wakanda, a technologically advanced country in Africa that has hidden itself away from the rest of the world. T’Challa is charged with defending the nation but his reign is challenged by a Wakanda dissident named Erik Killmonger, who wants to sell the country’s natural resources to fund an uprising.

Moonlight (2016)
This drama charts the life of a black gay youth named Chiron as he grows up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. Starring Alex Hibbert, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes. Directed by Barry Jenkins. The film was adapted from a short play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Rafiki = Friend (2019)
Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu’s lesbian coming-of-age drama is based on a short story by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko. As an election looms ahead in Nairobi, two daughters of rival aspiring politicians fall in love with each other. In a country where homosexuality is illegal, their romance can only survive in private.

Streaming Services


Director Ava Duvernay dives deep into explaining the pipeline from the 13th amendment to the modern-day Prison Industrial Complex and its effects on generations of people of color.

I Am Not Your Negro
Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book, this visual essay explores racism through the stories of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

When They See Us 
Follow the real-life accounts of the infamous Central Park Five in a limited series detailing the injustice they experienced with the New York City Police Department in 1989.

Time: The Kalief Browder Story
After his arrest at age 16, Kalief Browder fought the system and prevailed, despite unthinkable circumstances. He became an American hero.

Pose is a drama spotlighting the legends, icons, and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture, a movement that first gained notice in the 1980s.

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Kiki (2017)
25 years after Paris Is Burning introduced the art of voguing to the world, Kiki revisits New York City’s thriving underground ballroom scene. It’s a larger-than-life world in which LGBTQ youths of color are empowered by staging elaborate dance competitions that showcase their dynamic choreography, fabulous costumes, and fierce attitude. It’s also a safe haven for struggling, at-risk teens who find acceptance, support, and friendship within the Kiki community. Granted intimate access to the scene, filmmaker Sara Jordenö introduces viewers to some of Kiki culture’s most prominent personalities, going beyond the glamour of the balls to highlight the serious challenges facing queer black and Latino young people. Bringing together heartrending personal stories with incredible displays of creative expression, Kiki is ‘exhilarating…an indelible, must-see ode to gay New York’ (Manohla Dargis, the New York Times).

Naz & Maalik (2015)
Two closeted teens from Bed-Stuy unwittingly find themselves in the crosshairs of the War on Terror when surveillance footage of their secretive behavior is wildly misinterpreted in this smart indie comedy.

Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2017)
A film about iconic transgender artist and activist Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson and her life in the hours before she ignited the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. Written and directed by Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel.

The Urgency of Intersectionality, TED Talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw (2016)
Now more than ever, it’s important to look boldly at the reality of race and gender bias — and understand how the two can combine to create even more harm. Kimberlé Crenshaw uses the term “intersectionality” to describe this phenomenon; as she says, if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by both. In this moving talk, she calls on us to bear witness to this reality and speak up for victims of prejudice.

Notable Artists

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000)

Jacob Lawrence was one of the first nationally recognized African American artists and the most widely acclaimed African American artist of this century. Lawrence was best known for his painted series of panels depicting the civil rights movement of the 1960s, as well as the lives of important African Americans in history such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. His 60-panel series ‘Migration’ was painted on cardboard.

Smithsonian Collection
Memorial Art Gallery Collection
Papers of Jacob Lawrence and His Wife Gwendolyn Knight
Harriet and the Promised Land (1998; book on CD) by Jacob Lawrence
Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence (2000)
In the North the Negro Had Better Educational Facilities by Jacob Lawrence

Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas is an African American artist who is working today. She is well known for her complex works using a variety of materials such as rhinestones, enamel, and acrylic paint. She has said she is inspired by the sexualized blaxploitation films of the 1970s, racial issues, and is influenced by Carrie Mae Weems and Romare Bearden. She also notably painted the first individual portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Muse (2015) by Mickalene Thomas

Learn more about the Memorial Art Gallery’s 2015 Acquisition of Mickalene Thomas’s Portrait of Qusuquzah #6

Visit the artist’s web site:

Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems is one of the most influential contemporary African American artists. Her work is centered on the family, cultural identity, class, and the consequences of power. She has worked with digital images, audio, fabric, video, and installation art.

Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series
Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video

Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold is an African American artist. She is best known for her narrative quilts that communicate her political beliefs. She is also known as a painter, writer, and as a performance artist. Ringgold has written and illustrated 17 children’s books.

Faith Ringgold (2004) by Lisa E Farrington.

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks is an African American photographer, musician, and film director who became prominent in documentary journalism from the 1940s-1970s. He focused on civil rights, poverty, and African Americans. Parks also took many photos in the world of fashion, known as his glamour photography. Here is a selection of his books that you can find in the Arts Division at the Central Library.

Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work, 1940-1950
Gordon Parks, Photographer
The Photographs of Gordon Parks

Garth Fagan

Garth Fagan, Founder and Artistic Director of Garth Fagan Dance (originally ‘Bottom of the Bucket Dance’) is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential and original choreographers working today. Known worldwide for his groundbreaking choreography of Broadway’s The Lion King, Fagan has created of over 75 works for theater and the concert stage. His Fagan Technique™ “fuses the weight of modern dance, the vitality of Afro-Caribbean movement, and the speed and precision of ballet with the risk-taking experimentation of post modernism.”

Garth Fagan Dance celebrated its 50th Anniversary – an incredible milestone for a dance company – in January 2020.

Garth Fagan Dance
Learn more about Fagan here.

Sir Sidney Poitier

Hollywood icon Sidney Poitier was the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, receiving the honor in 1964 for his performance in Lilies of the Field. Poitier received numerous honors during his legendary career. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the British Empire in 1974, which entitled him to use the title “sir.” In 2009 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. In 2011 he received the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Chaplin Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Measure of a Man
The Measure of a Man (book on CD)
Life Beyond Measure
Life Beyond Measure (book on CD)

Gregory Hines

American dancer, actor, choreographer and singer Gregory Oliver Hines (1946 – 2003) was considered one of the most celebrated tap dancers of all time. In 1989, he created and hosted a PBS special called “Gregory Hines’ Tap Dance in America,” which featured tap dancers such as Savion Glover and Bunny Briggs. Hines starred in more than 40 films and made his mark on Broadway. He was the recipient of a Daytime Emmy Award, a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award.

White Nights

Savion Glover

Master tap dancer Savion Glover has been a star since 1986 when he made his Broadway debut in The Tap Dance Kid at twelve years old. He created, choreographed, and performed in the hit Broadway show Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. New York Times dance critic Brian Seibert included Glover (and Hines, above) in his book What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing.

What the eye hears : a history of tap dancing
Savion! : My Life in Tap (children’s book)
Savion Glover: Entertainer (YA book)


Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
Get Music DVDs and CDs by the six-time Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, who sang at the 2013 second inauguration of Barack Obama.

Soweto Gospel Choir
Get Music CDs by the Soweto Gospel Choir, which was formed to celebrate the unique and inspirational power of African Gospel music. The 3-time Grammy Award-winning group won the Best World Music Album award for their recording “Freedom” at the 2019 Grammy Awards.

Freetown Sound by Dev Hynes

Full Moon by Brandy

Everything is Everything: The Music of Donny Hathaway

Maggot Brain by Funkadelic

Ego Death by The Internet

Parliament: The Millenium Collection

Take Me Apart by Kelela

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by Outkast

Dock of the Bay Sessions by Otis Redding

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN


Killer of Sheep dir. Charles Burnett & Several Friends dir. Charles Burnett

Daughters of the Dust dir. Julie Dash

The Black Power Mixtape

Carmen Jones dir. Otto Preminger

The Last Black Man in San Francisco dir. Joe Talbot

Touki Bouki dir. Djibril Mambiety Diop

Africa United, Debs Paterson


Sister, Sister, Kim Bass

On HBO Max:

Lovecraft Country

On Hulu:

Atlanta, Season One
Atlanta, Season Two

Watchmen—starring Regina King

Insecure, Season One

Summer of Soul

On Netflix:

Sankofa, Haile Gerima

His House, Remi Weekes

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