In Depth

The BFI celebrates the best of black cinema

The UK's largest-ever tribute to black on-screen talent features screenings, events and a new exhibition and book exploring poster art

Celebrating the range and versatility of black cinema throughout the decades, the BFI's Black Star brings together special screenings, events and showcases celebrating the legacy of the art form.

One such part of the programme is Separate Cinema, a compilation of cinematic art on display in the Atrium of the BFI Southbank.

The exhibition draws on the extensive collection of the Separate Cinema Archive. Curated by director John Kisch, it collates film posters and memorabilia that showcase the history of black cinema. On display are a number of original works that trace its journey from early Hollywood to the present day, from 1954 film Carmen Jones and iconic 1970s blaxploitation hit Foxy Brown to the Eddie Murphy romcom Coming to America.

Separate Cinema is accompanied by a book of the same name, available from the BFI shop. Edited by Kisch and film-poster specialist Tony Nourmand, with an afterword by director Spike Lee, it offers an in-depth account of the history of black poster art, contrasting seminal films such as The Exile, Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather against contemporary classics including the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave.

"From the dawn of the silent era to movies screening digitally around the world today, black film, like any medium, reflects the journey of African Americans in society," says academic and foreword contributor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. "And the posters these films generate and inspire constitute their own art form and pattern of representation, like a parallel visual universe, mirroring (not literally but figuratively, as acts of interpretation) what an artist or a producer felt to be the dominant message about race in America that these films contained: 90 minutes, say, reduced to one image, an image that, over time, became both an icon and a work of art of its own."

Separate Cinema is at the Atrium in BFI Southbank until 2 January 2017. John Kisch and Tony Nourmand will be chairing a discussion on poster art at the exhibition on 5 November. Separate Cinema: The First 100 Years of Black Poster Art is published by Reel Art Press, £45; bfi.org.uk; reelartpress.com

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