University of Rochester

EVENT: Fall Film Series Concentrates on Issues in Afro-British Cinema

September 14, 2005

The Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies at the University of Rochester, in conjunction with the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies, will offer a film series this fall free to the University and Greater Rochester communities. The three films, all highly regarded within the United Kingdom but largely unknown in the United States, will focus on Afro-British cinema and issues of class, race, and relationships.

The series opens with Menelik Shabazz's thought-provoking political and personal drama Burning an Illusion (1981, color, 101 min.) at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29. Focusing on a young working-class London woman negotiating a difficult relationship with her boyfriend before and after his wrongful arrest by police, the film explores the shifts in the couple's relationship as they confront racial oppression—both external and internal—in Margaret Thatcher's Britain. Burning an Illusion was acclaimed when released, not just for its sophisticated political sensibilities, but also for the detailed portrayals of its many characters.

This film and others in the series will be screened in Morey Hall room 321 on the University of Rochester's River Campus. Parking is free in the nearby Library Lot in the rear of Rush Rhees Library beginning at 7 p.m.

Filmmaker and artist Isaac Julien's 1991 feature Young Soul Rebels (color, 105 min.) will be presented at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27. The winner of the Critics' Prize at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, Young Soul Rebels features engaging performances by Valentine Nonyela and Mo Sesay as a pair of pirate radio station DJs who become involved in a murder mystery during the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebration of 1977. Julien will visit Rochester Nov. 17 for the 2005 Craig Owens Memorial Lecture.

Critics and audiences in Great Britain have compared Young Soul Rebels favorably to both Do the Right Thing and My Beautiful Laundrette. It offers a rich portrayal of a complex friendship against the background of the 1970s London punk scene and manages to addresses race, sexuality, and the relationship of popular culture to political consciousness while telling a suspenseful and often humorous tale.

At 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 1, the Frederick Douglass Institute will present another neglected gem, Julian Henriques's colorful and entertaining Babymother (1998, color, 82 min.), a milestone in cinema as the first black British musical. In it, a single teen mother struggles to become a recording artist in the exuberant post-reggae genre called Jamaican dancehall music. Facing a number of obstacles, the young woman and her supporters stand up to male double standards and ultimately succeed against the odds.

Each screening will begin with a brief introduction by a University professor or graduate student, and will be followed by a discussion about issues raised by the film. These films have never been released on videotape or DVD in the United States.

Critics wishing to pre-screen films for review may contact Daniel Humphrey at For more information on the series or other programs of the Frederick Douglass Institute, contact Ghislaine Radegonde-Eison at or (585) 275-7235.

Note to editors: Images from the films in jpeg format can be e-mailed to you. Please call (585) 275-4128 or send your request to