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Black Star

Our subscription selection celebrating black stardom, focusing on British talents and pioneering performers.

Our highlights here include some of the ground-breaking talents of Black British film, plus in November we'll be adding pioneering works of African-American cinema.

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Black Star
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View For Queen and Country
For Queen and Country

For Queen and Country 1989 15

Denzel Washington stars as a British paratrooper who returns to the London council estate of his youth, only to find his wartime service counts for nothing.

105 mins United Kingdom Director. Martin Stellman

Denzel Washington’s turn as a British war veteran who returns to a life of crime foreshadows fellow American Forest Whitaker’s success in The Crying Game.

Eventually Britain would be able to source its own homegrown black stars. But ironically many of them would first find success internationally.

View Black Girl
Black Girl

Black Girl 1965 15

The first major work by African master Ousmane Sembène, about a Senegalese maid’s despair, brims with both New Wave vitality and African heart.

65 mins Senegal Director. Ousmane Sembène

Mbissine Thérèse Diop makes a precocious debut in Ousmane Sembene's landmark film; the first internationally distributed Sub-Saharan African feature.

But Diop only appeared in one more film before opting for an alternative career in textiles.

View Within Our Gates
Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates 1920 12

Oscar Micheaux’s startling silent classic – the earliest surviving feature from an African-American director – presents a fascinating black counterpoint to Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

73 mins USA Director. Oscar Micheaux

Evelyn Preer was one of the first major black female stars – known as the black community's ‘First Lady of the Screen’.

She acts here for another major player in early black American cinema – pioneering all-round auteur Oscar Micheaux.

View Birthright

Birthright 1938 PG

Oscar Micheaux directs the story of a Harvard graduate whose attempts to establish a rural school runs into opposition from both races.

73 mins USA Director. Oscar Micheaux

Micheaux also directs this later film starring Ethel Moses, another prominent star known as the ‘black Jean Harlow’.

Sadly this was her last film. Unusually her film career is bookended by two films of the same title – Micheaux’s silent and sound versions of the same story.

View The Blood of Jesus
The Blood of Jesus

The Blood of Jesus 1941 PG

Spencer Williams feverish melodrama about a woman’s flirtation with Satan was independently produced out of Texas with an amateur cast and a budget of $5,000.

56 mins USA Director. Spencer Williams

The undoubted star of this fiery melodrama is the man behind the camera – writer-producer-director Spencer Williams.

Williams mounted this independent Texan production himself, for a $5,000, and it became an enormous success with black audiences in the 1940s.

View Bullet Boy
Bullet Boy

Bullet Boy 2004 15

Ashley Walters impresses in the hard-hitting Hackney drama that’s still one of the best of Britain’s black urban crime films.

90 mins United Kingdom Director. Saul Dibb

Ashley Walters was better known as a member of So Solid Crew before the arrival of Saul Dibb’s powerful crime tale.

But he soon swayed any doubters with a convincing performance that adds steel and heart to one of Britain's best black urban dramas.

View One Love
One Love

One Love 2003 12

The legendary Don Letts directs this reggae romance about a rasta musician whose affair with a gospel-singing preacher’s daughter causes a stir in Kingston.

100 mins United Kingdom Director. Don Letts, Rick Elgood

Done Letts and Rick Elwood's Kingston-set romance features Ky-Mani Marley (son of Bob) as a Rastafarian embarking on a forbidden affair with a pastor's daughter (Cherine Anderson).

But perhaps more notably it stars Idris Elba in one of his feature film roles. (And yes, he does sport a Jamaican accent).

View Pressure

Pressure 1975 15

Hailed as Britain's first black feature film, Pressure is a hard-hitting, honest document of the plight of disenchanted black youths in 1970s London.

120 mins United Kingdom Director. Horace Ové

Horace Ové’s landmark 1975 film is recognised as the first feature by a black British filmmaker.

Herbert Norville impresses in the lead as a teen trying to make it in 1970s London, but his subsequent film roles (Full Metal Jacket, Scum) were sadly just bit-parts.

View Playing Away
Playing Away

Playing Away 1986 15

A cricketing comedy of manners exploring white and black stereotypes, from pioneering British filmmaker Horace Ové.

100 mins United Kingdom Director. Horace Ové

Norman Beaton became one of the most recognisable black British actors for his portrayal of the title role in fondly remembered sitcom, Desmond’s

Prior to that he starred in Horace Ové’s film, which depicts the culture-clash between a Brixton cricket team and their Suffolk village rivals.

View The Stuart Hall Project
The Stuart Hall Project

The Stuart Hall Project 2013 12

More startling and relevant than ever, a vivid profile of intellect and insight set to the music of Miles Davis.

98 mins United Kingdom Director. John Akomfrah

A star of a different kind, Stuart Hall was a revered academic and celebrated commentator, famed for his rigorously intellectual TV appearances.

And this portrait was compiled by another esteemed black cultural theorist, filmmaker John Akomfrah.

View The Nine Muses
The Nine Muses

The Nine Muses 2010 PG

John Akomfrah mixes archive material, literary and musical quotations and newly shot silent footage in a wry, rapt meditation on memory and migration.

92 mins United Kingdom Director. John Akomfrah

This later film from John Akmofrah is a deeply personal meditation on post-war immigration into Britain.

It's presented as a collage of archive footage detailing the immigrant experience, intercut with footage of forbidding Alaskan landscapes.

View Burning an Illusion
Burning an Illusion

Burning an Illusion 1981 15

Menelik Shabazz’s pioneering first feature traces the emotional and political growth of a young black couple in Thatcher’s London.

101 mins United Kingdom Director. Menelik Shabazz

One of the few films to focus on the experience of black British women, Menelik Shabazz's film boasts a fine and memorable lead performance from Cassie McFarlane.

But the subsequent petering out of her career exemplifies the troubling obstacles encountered by black actresses in British film.

View Young Soul Rebels
Young Soul Rebels

Young Soul Rebels 1991 18

The Queen's Silver Jubilee beats to the sounds of Funkadelic, Sylvester and the O'Jays in Isaac Julien’s feature debut.

105 mins United Kingdom Director. Isaac Julien

Isaac Julien’s gay-black-punk soundclash is another key black British feature, with eye-catching turns from its leads Valentine Nonyela and Mo Sesay.

But while both later drifted into TV work, it was co-star Sophie Okonedo (here in her film debut) who forged ahead to an eventual Oscar nomination, for Hotel Rwanda.

View B.D. Women
B.D. Women

B.D. Women 1994

Sassy, stylised documentary exploring the hidden histories of black lesbians.

20 mins United Kingdom Director. Campbell X

This smart, stylish short by Campbell X (formerly Inge Blackman) is one of the few films to celebrate the history and culture of black lesbians.

It combines contemporary documentary interviews with a fictional 1920s romance set in a Parisian jazz club.

View Straight to Hell
Straight to Hell

Straight to Hell 1987 15

Alex Cox’s anarchic homage to the spaghetti western, with arguably cinema’s wildest cast: Dennis Hopper, Joe Strummer, Courtney Love, Grace Jones and Shane MacGowan.

86 mins United Kingdom Director. Alex Cox

Versatile character actor Sy Richardson is an atypical example of a black American who found bigger roles in British films – exclusively the works of Alex Cox.

He appears in six of Cox’s films, most memorably as one of the hit-men at the heart of his anarchic spaghetti-western, Straight to Hell.

View Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar 2012 12

Gregory’s Doran’s innovative Shakespeare interpretation transplants the action to post-independence Africa.

150 mins United Kingdom Director. Gregory Doran

Paterson Joseph, Jeffery Kissoon and Cyril Nri star in this film of the acclaimed RSC production, featuring an all-black cast.

Gregory’s Doran’s innovative interpretation transplants the action to post-independence Africa.

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