As if it is no surprise, of course I’m one of those folks who insists that every month in America is Black History Month—that any day ending in Y is an occasion to celebrate the contributions of Black folk, and that my particular lean is the cultural and artistic contributions of Black folk.
The first day of February I was in a familiar, yet now foreign space: a movie theater. Being married to a Black independent film curator will present you with many opportunities to sit in front of a screen. His Luminal Theater was selected to program satellite screenings for Sundance Film Festival, and we had the opportunity to do it in my hometown in the shadow of my grandparent’s old neighborhood—my own first Black cultural space.
Here in Columbia, SC there’s a small theater just behind a nearly-empty shopping mall where I bought my first jean jacket from GAP, having paid cash I earned waiting tables at Applebee’s. Luminal Theater was able to partner with the existing theater to present socially-distant, in-person viewing experiences for Sundance, and for free. How many folks outside of Park City, Utah can say they saw Sundance for free in their backyard?
The last film was the documentary AILEY, about famed dancer and choreographer and founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I am such a fan of the company and was treated to a large screen viewing of archival footage of Mr. Ailey himself—heard his voice, heard from people who, too, loved and were moved by him. The contemporary spotlight was on one of my favorite choreographers, Rennie Harris, whose piece Lazarus was a moving visual depiction of Black life and celebration. It’s not an exaggeration to say I was mush watching it, the convergence of of it all—Black culture in my neighborhood, Mr. Ailey and his historic contributions to dance and ways of seeing the Black body. The whole of it.
What struck me was the story of sad and great and Black love that Mr. Ailey had given us over his whole life and beyond—at such an expense to himself. What a testament to what it means to be Black in America: no matter what, until his very end, Mr. Ailey never thought he could measure up to this American project that made him, and yet (maybe a recurring theme this month and all months?) he still gave us—undeserving—beauty, and ways of seeing ourselves in song and dance. The moments of light: wading in the water, the Black body, flying.
Let’s celebrate Black culture, always.
In Black love,