Black history through film

Michaela James-Thrower
Executive Staff 

As we come to the end of February, we look back on how Sewanee celebrated Black History Month. Every Wednesday of the month, the NAACP and the Sewanee Union Theater celebrated Black history through films educating and embracing Black culture. 

Vice President of the Sewanee chapter of the NAACP, Klarke Stricklen (C’22) said, “We tend to look at Black achievement as how great it is, but there’s never an opportunity to celebrate it.”

The NAACP, in conjunction with the Sewanee Union Theater, decided to create a space to celebrate Black excellence by, as Stricklen says, “[giving others] places to actually go to and have some kind of human interaction” without the limitations of COVID-19. 

The month kicked off with Marshall, a 2017 film about young Thurgood Marshall working as a lawyer for the NAACP. This film explores the case of a young man in Conneticut accused of sexual assualt and attempted murder. 

Sasha Golden (C’24) attended the first screening of the month. “Starting our Black History Month celebration with a movie about the NAACP could motivate others to learn more about Black History.” 

Golden continued by commenting on how she wishes “there had been better attendance and more use of Black agency.” Overall, Golden enjoyed the movie and believes “it kicked off [her] personal celebration of Black History Month.” 

The next film, Sylvie’s Love, introduces a beautiful story celebrating Black love. This 2020 drama stars Tessa Thompson, an actress well-known for her activism and performance in Marvel movies. Although this particular film has nothing to do with heroism, Sylvie’s Love bravely explores old-fashioned romance. Uncommon in romance films from the Black perspective, this film neglects Black trauma as a point for entertainment. 

Stricklen commented on the movie’s importance, saying “people deserve to see Black love without trauma. In an interview with Tessa Thompson, she talks about how a lot of people thought this wasn’t a movie people would want to see because people would only be interested in the trauma of Black people. Black trauma has to always be so centered in the Black narrative.” 

Kappa Delta sponsored this film. DEI chair Lakeisha Phillips (C’22) commented, “as an organization that is predominately white, it is important that we show our BIPOC sisters that we care about them and want to learn more about their culture and heritage. Celebrating Black History Month is one of [the] ways to do that.” 

A 2016 history film,  Hidden Figures was third. This film educated on the three Black female NASA employees responsible for the launch of John Glenn into orbit, one of the most remarkable accomplishments in American history. 

Yazmine Ali (C’24) said, “I went to see Hidden Figures for the first time in the eighth grade with my class. It was amazing to see Black women have a huge role in history and it also educated me on how Black women are underappreciated and not mentioned enough in our history books. Seeing this movie again today, showed how important it is to celebrate Black women.” 

The final film was Da 5 Bloodz. This 2020 Spike Lee joint explores the story of four Black veterans who return to Vietnam years after their service there. This film impeccably portrays the Black experience in a time of anguish and violence in American history. 

President of the Black Student Union, Michaela Blow (C’22) said the BSU chose to sponsor this film because it added to “understanding the root of white supremacy and racism that has prevailed in the U.S. Even, to this day, veterans are not treated properly. Black veterans and Black generals struggled so much. They willingly fought for the white man, while the white man wouldn’t fight for them. It is important to celebrate Black History Month because we built this country. We deserve recognition.” 

Each of the chosen films proudly express and exhibit Black culture, but were the screenings successful at Sewanee? 

Phillips said, “Each movie spoke to various aspects of the African American experiences in the professional realm and socially; Black women in NASA, Black soldiers in the Vietnam War, Black attorneys, and Black love. All of these topics are rarely discussed or brought to light in everyday Sewanee life and these screenings gave the community an opportunity to engage with them.” 

NAACP secretary Thomas Broadnax (C’22) said, “People showed up for every screening so that’s a win in my book. While there are many ways to celebrate Black History Month, I think that any celebration is a good celebration”. 

Though the screenings provided an educational space for Black History Month, the screenings were the only well-advertised celebration for Black History Month. 

Golden says “I wish the university celebrated with more than just the movies. This is our one month of the year and any Black History Month events were put together by students.” 

Broadnax still hopes that “we could definitely open the floor for more ideas from anyone that wants to have an event during Black History Month and not just the organization even though we put this together.” 

Stricklen seconds Broadnax’s vision saying people should “reach out to the NAACP with any suggestions. We would be happy to hear from them and implement their ideas.” 

Stricklen also urges the community to remember that “showing up matters…You never know how a space can impact you.”.