At this point, everyone is aware that our media is biased towards telling the stories from the viewpoints of white, western people — predominately men.
A casual viewer might think things have changed — what about Moonlight, or Insecure, or even the newly-released Shang Chi, you could ask. Despite the landscape slowly moving towards a more diverse future, there is still a lot of work to be done — and a lot of stories that remain untold, or simply difficult for viewers to find. You may know the classics of American cinema, but can you say the same of Jamaican or Palestinian movies? That’s where BIPOC Film Society comes in.
Founded by Maissa Lihedheb in May 2020, the group, which numbers around seven members, runs a detailed Instagram account spotlighting BIPOC-created films with thoughtful reviews and ready-to-share screenshots alongside in-person film screenings and panel discussions.
“I started this collective because, for too long, we struggled to believe that the creative sphere would be the right place for us as BIPOC individuals, even though there is nothing in the world that we want to do more than to create stories and cinematic worlds,” Lihedheb says. “It is exhausting to be perceived as the Other. Excluded in a world that doesn’t seem to see us as more than just a stereotype and quota.”
“The moment that we got together, we knew that there is the need for a space that could bring a whole community of people together — built on compassion, empowerment, self-respect, appreciation, and intersectionality,” she explains.
Below, members of the BIPOC Film Society present eight essential movies on their BERLIN, BERLIN watchlist. Read on, and take notes — film school is in session.
‘Talking About Trees’ (2019) – Suhaib Gasmelbari
Talking About Trees is a Sudanese documentary showing the historical and deliberate political death of the film industry at the hands of the Sudanese regime — and the people who have been trying to unsuccessfully revive the industry. Exploring how the authorities want to suppress film due to fears of anti-government sentiment shows, Talking About Trees is a clear example of the power and influence of film in both a political and cultural sense. – Boaz Murinizi, Murema
‘Onibaba’ (1964) – Kaneto Shindō
Set during civil war in the 14th century of Japan, Onibaba is an erotic noir tale of two nameless women fighting for survival shot in arresting high-contrast pictures. Dividing critics on its genre, Onibaba is at times categorized as period drama, although mainly known as historical horror drama. Its strength lies in its depiction of a war-torn society with a literal pit at the centre of the film serving as a metaphor for insatiable cruelty.
Horror over the last decades has relied heavily on jump-scares and CGI, leaving me as a viewer rather unsatisfied in terms of narrative and visual artistry. With the comeback of nuanced horror films in recent years (notably ‘Get Out’, ‘The Witch’), I’m hoping to see more films paralleling the spirit of Onibaba – a timeless allegory. – Chau Luong
‘The Dream’ (1987) – Mohamed Malas
With his work spanning decades, Mohamed Malas has established himself as a true master of film. Perhaps one of his most notable films is “The Dream”, a documentary that he shot between 1980-81 that centres on the Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon during the country’s civil war. Over the course of a year, Malas interviewed people of various ages who lived among the camps of Sabra, Shatila, Rashidieh, Ain al-Hilweh, and Bourj el-Barajneh. With an almost socio-psychological approach, Malas prompted each of the participants interviewed to recount the events that occurred in dreams they had previously had.
After the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 killed several individuals Malas had interviewed, the director – overwhelmed by grief and anxiety -stopped working on the project. In 1986, he returned to editing the footage, finally releasing The Dream” as a 45-minute documentary in 1987. An iconic piece of Arab cinema, “The Dream” blurs the lines between reality and fiction, of memory and dream, to create a piece that documents how individual experiences can provide collective insight into the reality of displacement.- Erkan Affan
Black Power in America – Myth or Reality? (1986) William Greaves
‘Black Power in America – Myth or Reality?’ is an essential watch. Directed by William Greaves, the film asks if the Civil Rights Movement actually changed the lives of Black Americans, both within their own communities and as part of the larger context of the country as a while. Through interviews with Black psychiatrists, philosophers, activist, politicians and entrepreneurs, all filtered through Greaves’ very particular lens as a socialist, the film finds rhythm in an incredibly vast topic and asks questions that are still relevant today. – Kareem Balhozer
Chocolate Babies (1997) – Stephen Winter
In ‘Chocolate Babies’ director Stephen Winter infuses his work with complex and raw, unresolved identity politics that are based in experience, not in theory. The characters, a group of HIV-positive outlaws of color, confront and attack conservative politicians on the streets because of their complicity in the AIDS crisis. As they encounter a closeted politician who is standing in the way of change, the group gets split by their beliefs and the political and the personal have an intense confrontation that tests the limit of their solidarity as friends and lovers. It’s the story of any revolution, told with passion and humor and great cinematography. It’s uploaded by director Stephen Winter to public availability on Vimeo.
Shakedown (2018) – Leilah Weinraub
Leilah Weinraub’s experimental documentary plays like an intimate collage, following a Black lesbian strip club in LA through its heyday in the early 2000s to its decline. Divided into thematic chapters ruminating on love, sex and money, the film flits between candid interviews and flyers from the club’s many performance nights. Shot lovingly on a camcorder by Weinraub herself, Shakedown returns the gaze and power back to the community of Black lesbians and studs who owned, operated, and attended the club. – Kat Singleton
Couscous with Fish / La Graine et le Mulet) (2007) – Abdellatif Kechiche
Couscous with Fish (La fraine et le mulet) is the third film by Abdellatif Kechiche, following “Voltaire is guilty (La faute à Voltaire, 2000 – describing the efforts of a Tunisian to obtain French citizenship), and L’esquive (2003 – on young people in a Parisian banlieue).
Just like its predecessors, Couscous with Fish is about immigrants and their difficulties in being accepted within French society. But what makes Kechiche’s films so unique is not so much their subject, but rather his way of telling the stories – a ten-minute dinner scene where everyone speaks over eachother, one that likely breaks all the usual scriptwriting rules stands out. The film feels so personal to me as someone growing up within immigrant family members, who are trying to belong to the country in which they raised their children. Working for years, yet never being accepted as part of society. – Maissa Lihedheb