Black Lives – Streaming on the Criterion ChannelTom Grieve, Cinema Editor
US streaming service the Criterion Channel has pledged its support for the Black Lives Matter movement with a series of financial commitments to anti-racism organisations, and by making a collection of landmark black films available to watch for free until the end of the month. Usually only available to American customers, the films are also available to stream in the UK for a limited time. Starting in the silent era with actor Paul Robeson’s role in the legendary African American director Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul (1925), viewers can explore a history of black cinema that includes titles such as L.A. Rebellion indie filmmaker Charles Burnett’s My Brother’s Wedding (1983) and, from Senegal, Ousmane Sembène’s masterful anti-colonialist film Black Girl (1966).
Included among the dozens of titles is a notable contingent of films by black women, including restored versions of previously hard to see works such as Kathleen Collins’ charming and comic rendering of the marriage between a philosophy professor and a painter in Losing Ground (1982). Also available is Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) — a ravishing depiction of black womanhood in turn-of-the-century South Carolina and the first film directed by an African American woman to receive a wide release — as well as Down in the Delta (1998), the only film directed by writer, poet, and activist Maya Angelou. Special mention must go to the inclusion of the playfully self-reflexive films of Cheryl Dunye. Her debut feature The Watermelon Woman (1996) is a remarkable work of postmodern history, mockumentary, and a hilarious look at the black lesbian experience.