From radical film collectives in Chicago to the LA Rebellion school of filmmaking, countless independent filmmakers have challenged the Hollywood studio system in favor of works that expose structural deficiencies in capitalist society. Many of these films also explore the potential for social and political change. The four works in MAD’s new cinema series UPRISING: A Call to Action span 24 years during the growth of radical independent cinema.
The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971) highlights the systemic suppression of the Black Panther Party following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the way in which government paranoia and fear of shifting power structures result in disproportionately egregious police action. The Cry of Jazz challenges white appropriation of black music with a scathing critique of entitlement, which many white critics found deeply offensive when it was released in 1959, at the beginning of the civil rights movement. Larry Clark’s 1977 film Passing Through, made 18 years after The Cry of Jazz, expands upon the latter’s thesis-like discourse to form a narrative in which white appropriation has destroyed the history and motivations of black music. And in Lizzie Borden’s 1983 film, Born in Flames, the promise of a future society that is equal for all members, regardless of race, gender, or social class, has failed—and a movement of feminist activism violently and successfully re-empowers the marginalized.
In all of these films, more is questioned than answered. The Murder of Fred Hampton, The Cry of Jazz, and Passing Through do not propose an alternative to the broken system in which we live, but chronicle specific aspects of its various deficiencies. Born in Flames is the logical response to the three aforementioned films, portraying a society that peacefully implemented a social revolution, only to find it equally deficient. At its conclusion, Born in Flames suggests that the only successful platform for change is action… at all costs.
UPRISING: A Call to Action is co-curated by Katerina Llanes, former Manager of Public Programs, and Carson Parish, Audio-Visual Coordinator and Film Programmer, at the Museum of Arts and Design.