This February, the Deerfield Black Student Alliance (DBSA) hosted a film series and an art information display to share culture and history with the Deerfield community in honor of Black History Month.
When considering ways to honor the month, the DBSA noted the timeless and powerful ability of art to display culture. Reflecting on the diversity of art made by black artists from different parts of the diaspora and the creation of art in response to struggles faced in history by black people, DBSA leader Vera Grace Menafee ‘20 said, “I think the arts are a perfect way to start in terms of understanding the black community.”
The film series included three movies that were all shown during the month of February: Do the Right Thing, Coming to America, and US. Leaders of the DBSA decided to show movies because of their unique ability to showcase narratives that often intertwine with history and culture. In choosing what films to include, the leaders sought to show films with both black actors and directors that are relevant across the black diaspora.
Menafee spoke on the importance of such criteria, saying, “It’s important to have black people on screen visually, but having us in the actual creation of the film matters so much as well. That issue carries through music production, theatre and other artistic genres…Having directors and screenwriters working behind the scenes to ensure the stories are real is important.”
Do the Right Thing, which was directed by Spike Lee is the first movie that was shown. Chronicling the events revolving around a controversial wall of fame at a pizza shop, the film explores racial tension.
Coming to America, the only shown film without a black director, stars Eddie Murphy and tells the fictional story of an African prince who ventures to America to live and find love.
Us, a more recent film directed by Jordan Peele, is a thriller film about a black family haunted by doppelgangers who seek to take over the world. All three films showcase different aspects of black culture and are classics in the history of black Americans in film.
In addition to the film series, the DBSA partnered with the Deerfield Visual Arts Club to showcase two black artists: Kara Walker and Jean-Michel Basquait. Walker is a contemporary artist known for her work with silhouettes, and Basquait was a neo-expressionist street artist known for his masterful graffiti.
Across the board, the DBSA’s choices in art to display seek to recognize the importance and synonymous nature of black culture and American culture. In their presentation of the month at school meeting, the leaders played a Google commercial that showed the milestone contributions of black Americans to the cultural fabric of America. Referring to portrayals of American culture, the DBSA sought to address the exclusion of black Americans from mainstream depictions of American culture.
In the wake of a recent hate crime involving slurs that targeted black students on campus, Menafee noted the hurt amongst members of the community. Given the aim of Black History Month to respect and educate surrounding the achievements of black Americans in this country, the offensiveness of the action held extra weight for some. “I think it’s a strong statement that this happened during Black History Month. The disregard for what this month means said a lot,” Menafee said.
While Black History Month is officially limited to the month of February, Menafee expressed her desire for black history to be integrated more actively within and outside of the classroom. Asserting her belief that black history ought to be celebrated outside of the month of February she said, “I would want my whole class year to be ingrained with different black artists and writers.”