To celebrate Black History Month, Cambridge Day is partnering with the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and Roxbury International Film Festival to sponsor a discussion focused around three films chronicling different aspects of the Black experience in America. Interested participants over the next two weeks should watch (or reacquaint themselves with) the selections (listed below with details about where they’re available for streaming) and join the conversation with our panel. The free, virtual event, which will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 23, is intended to be an open and interactive forum. 

Sign up for the Black History Month Film Discussion

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The panel

Charles Coe, Cantabrigian author of three books of poetry and adjunct professor of English at Salve Regina University

Lisa Simmons, director of the Roxbury Film Festival and president and founder of the Color of Film Collaborative

Tom Meek, Cambridge Day film editor, writer, Cambridge Center for Adult Education instructor and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics

Michelle Baxter, Cambridge Center for Adult Education program director of humanities and performing arts, will moderate

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Film 1: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ (2016)

Raoul Peck’s documentary brilliantly mines the published and unpublished works of renowned writer and social critic James Baldwin. Through passages and interviews, we get Baldwin’s strong voice about race over the course of his lifetime (born in Harlem decades before the civil rights movement). Peck does a beautiful job of weaving together the components that tell Baldwin’s story of struggle and activism in his own voice – a story still all too relevant today. Streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Kanopy and other platforms.

Why you should see it: “I Am Not Your Negro” is a commentary and criticism on the state of social justice and race in America as told through a vivid patchwork of Baldwin’s writings, interviews and musings.

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Film 2: ‘Daughters of the Dust’ (1991)

Directed by Julie Dash, “Daughters of the Dust” is a beautiful and impressionistic portrait of the Gullah people of South Carolina’s Sea Islands at the turn of the century (post-Reconstruction, on the eve of the Great Migration), as many of the inhabitants prepare to leave for better lives in the North. The narrative, told primarily from the perspectives of the women, is a poetic meditation on how the bond of shared history and tradition hold families and communities together in the face of loss and sweeping change. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes and other platforms.

Why you should see it: “Daughters of the Dust” focuses on a unique black community, isolated yet part of the post-Civil War South. Made in 1991, “Dust” was the first feature film directed by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the United States.

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Film 3: ‘Loving’ (2016)

The subtle beauty of Jeff Nichols’ true-life drama is that it doesn’t sensationalize racism and hate, but instead moves in small, delicate strokes – dreamily so, like a Terrence Malick film, painting an unsavory portrait of a time in America when systemic bigotry was backed and enforced by law. The film details the front-page ordeal of Richard and Mildred Loving, arrested for being an interracial married couple in 1958 Virginia, where such unions were illegal. (Read our full review from Nov. 10, 2016.) Streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and other platforms.

Why you should see it: Because recent right-wing rallies have demonstrated that the commingling of races is still violently objected to by some. And because this is one of the greatest “love conquers all” stories of all time, the tale of two people who overcame bigotry and hatred to simply live their lives together.  

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Additional recommended Black History Month viewing from the panel: 


Lisa Simmons and Charles Coe contributed to this story.

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