Each week, Milwaukee Film presents FILMxFIVE - lists celebrating cinema in all its varied forms. This week, Black Lens' very own Donte McFadden brings you five films about health with regards to African American communities in honor of our new MInority Health Film Series! Read on...
The Minority Health Film Series, presented by Milwaukee Film and Froedtert/Medical College of Wisconsin, began this past Friday with the premiere of the documentary Mossville: When Great Trees Fall (dir. Alexander Gulstrum, 2019). The namesake of the film is a small town in Louisiana. It was a once-thriving community founded by formerly enslaved and free people of color, as well as an economically flourishing safe haven for generations of African American families. It has now become a breeding ground for petrochemical plants and their toxic black clouds. The fact that April is National Minority Health Month marks a tragic coincidence with the current stay-at-home order in Wisconsin due to the current global pandemic. This especially rings true when one observes the high percentage of people of color who have contracted or died from COVID-19 in Milwaukee County alone.
The Minority Health Film Series furthers the efforts established by the country’s first annual Minority Health Film Festival, which launched in September of last year. It was the first festival of its kind to feature both films and conversations about health issues that directly affected communities of specific racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. As we look at the film Mossville in the time of COVID-19, a major observation is that while anyone can be infected by the virus, there are nonetheless major disparities along racial lines that this current crisis has revealed in terms of the proximity of specific communities to hospitals. The crisis also reveals the absence of initiatives to address environmental and economic deficiencies in neighborhoods where Black residents are densely populated.
The Minority Health Film Festival emerged from similar initiatives that brought to fruition Black Lens and Cine Sin Fronteras, two of Milwaukee Film’s cultural pillars. I want to focus on five films from past Black Lens festival programming that examine health issues that affect Black communities.
25 to Life
(dir. Michael L. Brown, 2014)
Available to stream via Kanopy
25 TO LIFE extended trailer from 25 TO LIFE on Vimeo.
Shown during Black Lens’s inaugural year in the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival, Michael L. Brown’s documentary focuses on William Brawner, a graduate of Howard University known for being a “ladies’ man” during his undergraduate years. He drops a bombshell a few years after finishing college that he has spent nearly his entire life living with HIV, which he contracted through a blood transfusion as a child. The film magnifies the way people living with HIV or AIDS can be stigmatize in various Black communities. It also chronicles the way in which Brawner has to confront his past romantic partners and learn from them the impact his revelation has had on their lives.
A Girl Like Grace
(dir. Ty Hodges, 2015)
Available to stream via Amazon Prime, Hoopla, VUDU, and Pluto TV
Ty Hodges’s drama focuses on Grace (Ryan Destiny), a high school student who struggles to cope with the suicide of her best friend while dealing with a bullying clique (led by Raven-Symone) and a difficult relationship with her mother (Garcelle Beauvais). When she befriends Andrea’s older sister, Share, (Meagan Good), what begins as a path towards self-discovery leads to unfamiliar and dangerous territory. This is one of the few films presented by Black Lens that has directly addressed the way suicide can disrupt people’s lives in a lingering way, leaving a void that haunts a community for an indefinite period of time.
(dir. Jennifer Brea, 2017)
Available to stream via Netflix
This documentary chronicles Jennifer Brea’s discovery of Chronicle Fatigue Syndrome, an affliction that turns her once highly active life upside down and confines her to immobility for long periods of time. In the face of unsuccessful attempts to find a correct diagnosis and cure, she finds solace through her supportive husband, Omar Wasow, and a global community of others who suffer from the same affliction. The mysterious nature of Brea’s disease, and the turn of events it has on her life strikes home for people right now who are adjusting to living under quarantine, especially those who have been infected with COVID-19 and have been fortunate to survive the virus.
(dir. Eric Dyson, 2018)
Available to stream here!
Baby Steps New Teaser from EA Dyson on Vimeo.
A visceral short that illuminates the strain between childhood friends Kenny (Kenny Cooper) and Pete (Ray Stoney), especially when one of them hits an emotional wall on the anniversary of his father’s suicide. As Kenny battles with his own mental health struggles, he seeks solace from Pete, who makes a strenuous effort to bring a sense of calm and stability at the expense of his own relationship. While Eric Dyson’s film also deals with the effects of suicide on one’s family, it also magnifies a familial trajectory of mental health problems that leaves Kenny to wonder if he is doomed to meet the same fate.
Evelyn X Evelyn
(dir. Eric Pumphrey, 2019)
Available to stream via HBO GO/HBO Now
Eric Pumphrey’s dramatic short follows a couple, Evelyn (Natalie Paul) and Charles (Jocko Sims), coping with the death of their son in 1956. To capture Charles’s struggles to console his wife, Evelyn is portrayed by multiple other actresses to illustrate the difficult and traumatizing process of mourning. It is a unique visual strategy that conveys the compounding pain and suffering that a parent experiences in losing a child.