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Learn the history of black cinema, new and old, with these upcoming film series

Charlotte’s film-going cognoscenti love to venture beyond suburban multiplexes, regularly attending local film festivals, occasional art flicks at venues like the Manor, or in one-off series such as New Frequencies at the McColl Center.

Consistently curated art-house fare is it is such a rarity in the QC, it’s enough to make those who eschew uninspired mainstream high budget Hollywood films shriek in despair.

That’s why it may come as a surprise for many of Charlotte’s self-styled cinefiles to learn Charlotte’s Classic Black Cinema Series is not only entering its sixth year of regular, monthly screenings at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture, but beginning March 20 plans to expand its reach by launching Black Cinema Forward, quarterly programming established to spotlight emerging filmmakers of color.

Felix Curtis, founder of both series, moved to Charlotte from the Bay Area in 2006. His film chops include curating the San Francisco Black Film Festival and Black Filmworks, the annual film festival component of the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, where he later served as executive director.

He first approached the Gantt Center in 2008 with the idea for a series after meeting with the late Dennis Darrell, a well known black film advocate in Charlotte. Curtis is passionate about sharing his love for classic films and providing a format for not simply screening them but facilitating discussion around important themes such as the portrayal of blacks in film and the complexities of race relations in the South.

Curtis also wants to provide a platform for the depth and breadth of black talent involved in filmmaking during the classic era.

“We’ve shown more than 60 films since our beginning,” said Curtis, who curates the series with his daughter, Tamu Curtis. “Our most recent screening, ‘Cabin in the Sky,’ sold out. It featured Lena Horne cast against type as a vamp.”

The 1943 classic was directed by Vincente Minnelli and had a controversial scene of Horne singing while in a bubble bath, which was cut from the releases shown in the South due to fear of the backlash at the sight of a nude black women in a bathtub.

“The post film conversations about the attitudes prevalent at the time of these films are instructive,” said Curtis. “’Cabin in the Sky,’ for example, was made during WWII when many actors, especially black actors, didn’t have much opportunity to work. Even though they knew their portrayals were stereotypical, they were willing to compromise in order to get the work.”

The Classic Black Cinema Series screens the second Sunday afternoon of each month at the Gantt Center. Curtis noted crowds range in size from 35-60.

The next CBCS screening, “White Nights” with Gregory Hines, is March 13 at 2 p.m. It’s free with museum admission ($9 for adults).

In starting Black Cinema Forward, Curtis hopes to highlight a renaissance in black filmmaking today. The quarterly series hosted at C3 Lab and will expose attendees to today’s black filmmakers like Ryan Coogler, Ava Duvenay, Tim Story, F. Gary Gray, Issa Rae, Steve McQueen, Justin Simien, Rick Famuyiwa and Biyi Bandele.

The inaugural screening brings California based filmmaker Nijla Mu’min to Charlotte for a reception, discussion and screening of three short films; “Deluge,” “Dream,” and “Two Bodies.”

Mu’min recieved the 2009 Paul Robeson Award for Best Feature Screenplay and also won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Screenplay at the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival.

Find more information and advance tickets ($20) to the 4 p.m. March 20 event here.

Photos: Photos Felix Curtis, Tamu Curtis, Nijla Mu’min and Creative Commons.