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Classic Black Films Put Black Music Out Front

June film series spotlights the central role of music in Black films

Krush Groove and other movie posters

Black music from Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers to Run-DMC is an important influence in American popular culture, nowhere more so than in Black film.

This month, in celebration of Black Music Month, the Black Music/Black Films series will highlight that connection with the showing of films showcasing soul, hip-hop and R&B music.

The free, public series will be held every Thursday in June at 6:15 p.m. at the Duke I&E Bullpen (215 Morris St., Durham).

The series began June 7 with “Wattstax,” and continues June 14 with “Sparkle: The Original.” “Krush Groove” and the boxing documentary “When We Were Kings” will be shown later in the month. 

"The film series allows us to look thoroughly at the impact that Black music has had on American culture," said Mark Anthony Neal, chair of Duke’s Department of African & African American Studies and a professor of Black popular culture. “The film series presents a wonderful opportunity for collaboration between both Duke and Durham stakeholders."

The film series is a collaboration between the Department of African & African American Studies and Innovate Your Cool, the non-profit initiative of The Art of Cool festival held annually in Durham. 

In addition to spotlighting the link between music and Black film, the showings will create anticipation for the Art of the Cool festival, which will be held Sept. 28-29 with Nas and Erykah Badu among the headliners.

Each film highlights music that range from the 1970s to the ‘90s. Organizers said each of the films and are less likely to be in circulation to receive recognition at the moment.

Showing this Thursday, “Sparkle: The Original”a film on three musically gifted sisters who form a singing group but experience problems after one sister ends up dating an abusive drug-addicted boyfriend. It features music by Aretha Franklin.

On June 21, the 1985 hip-hop film “Krush Groove” tells a fictionalized story of the early days of Def Jam Recordings and its legendary manager Russell Simmons. It features music from many of that period, such as Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow and L.L Cool J.

The film series ends on June 28 with When We Were Kings, a documentary on the 1974 heavyweight championship between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.

A light meal is said to be served at each showing of the films. Co-sponsors of the film series are Department of African & African American Studies, the Duke Council on Race and Equality and the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship.

While the showings are free for the public, registration is required. 

Alexis K. Owens is a NC Central University student who is working this summer with Duke University Communications.