Blackness and the art house

In Ava Duvernay’s Middle of Nowhere (2012) there’s a scene where David Oyelowo asks Emayatzy Corinealdi out to a movie, and she warns him that they might not share the same taste in movies.  He asks her what kinds of movies she likes.  She tells him, “Indie ones.  Foreign ones.”  (They end up going to see Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.)  Middle of Nowhere (which I find to be vastly more interesting than Duvernay’s Selma, by the way), and Duvernay’s career generally, take up the question of African-American filmmaking (and filmgoing) in relation to art house cinema—two categories that are often thought to be mutually exclusive, even though many of the best black filmmakers (Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, Haile Gerima) have, by virtue of necessity, fashioned entire careers making art-house movies.  But as the success of Selma promises to launch Duvernay into the world of mainstream Hollywood (she is currently slated to mount an adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time), I worry that Duvernay will continue to move further and further away from the independent spirit of a film like Middle of NowhereSelma already signaled a move away from that spirit toward something that was weightier; even at its deftest moments, the film never really allows you to forget about the burden that Duvernay was made to carry in taking on that material.  I hope that, as Duvernay continues to make movies, she doesn’t forget about all of us—black, white, and every color in between—who like indie ones, foreign ones.

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