There's some irony in the fact that this year's Oscars fall during Black History Month. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy called attention to the lack of nominations for black performers and filmmakers (or any artists of color, for that matter) and how these nominations were a reflection of the larger issue of Hollywood's racial bias.
Like an antidote to the whitewashed Oscar nominees, the month of February will see a number of film screenings in Rochester that highlight the stories of African and African-American culture. A wide-ranging and genre-spanning collection of films will pull into focus the kinds of stories that demand to be told. Note: Screenings at The Little (240 East Avenue; thelittle.org) include a post-film panel discussion.
"Chi-Raq": A bold, blistering update of Aristophanes' 2,500-year-old play, "Lysistrata," Spike Lee's latest joint tackles our country's epidemic of gun violence as only Lee can. Moving the action to modern day Chicago, the film follows Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris, "Dear White People"), the girlfriend of Spartan gang leader Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), as she organizes her fellow women into withholding sex until the fighting between the Spartans and the rival Trojans comes to an end. Elements of social satire, farce, and tragedy combine into a barbed state-of-the-union examination (told almost entirely in rhyme) of where our country's at in 2016. (The Little; Saturday, February 6, 3 p.m.; Saturday, February 20, 7 p.m.; $5)
"Mavis!": Screening as part of the Little's Monthly One Take Documentary series, "Mavis!" profiles the life and music of R&B and gospel singer Mavis Staples. A post-screening Skype Q&A with director Jessica Edwards will follow. (The Little; Tuesday, February 9, 7 p.m.; $8)
"BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez": Focusing on the life of poet, playwright, teacher, and activist Sonia Sanchez, this documentary mixes Sanchez's live performances with recollections of her life and experiences as an influential figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960's. (The Little; Saturday, February 13, 3 p.m.; $5)
"Bamboozled": An underrated entry in Spike Lee's filmography, this dark comedy from 2000 imagines what might happen if some enterprising television network decided it might be a good idea to revive blackface minstrel shows, but this time produced by and starring black actors. The digital camerawork feels a bit dated, but the ideas (and the palpable anger behind them) in "Bamboozled" showcase Lee at his best: messy, uncompromising, and always fascinating. (The Little; Saturday, February 20, 3 p.m.; $5)
"The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution": This is a free encore screening of a gripping documentary chronicling the history of the Black Panther movement. (The Little; Monday, February 22, 7 p.m.; $5)
"3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets": In 2012, Jordan Davis, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by white, middle-aged software engineer Michael Dunn, following a dispute about loud music in a gas station parking lot. This compelling and heartbreaking documentary chronicles the aftermath and court trial that followed, along with interviews with Davis' friends and family. (The Little; Saturday, February 27, 3 p.m.; $5)
Every Thursday throughout the month, the Dryden Theatre (900 East Avenue) will feature the films of Ethiopian director Haile Gerima. Tickets are $8 general admission; $6 members.
"Harvest: 3,000 Years": Combining documentary techniques with more traditional narrative storytelling, Gerima's first feature set in Africa follows a dispute between a wealthy feudal landlord and a protester who feels he's mistreating the Ethiopian peasants he uses as laborers. (Thursday, February 4, 8 p.m.)
"Ashes & Embers": A Vietnam veteran suffering the effects of PTSD struggles to come to terms with his role in the war as well as the experience of living as a black man in America. (Thursday, February 18, 8 p.m.)
"Sankofa": A self-absorbed fashion model on a photo shoot in Ghana finds herself forced to confront her ancestral heritage and cultural identity when she's transported back to a Louisiana slave plantation. (Thursday, February 25, 8 p.m.)
Separate from the Black History Month screenings, The Little will also present a lineup of classic blaxploitation films as part of its ongoing Mondo Film series. All films start at 10 p.m. and are $5.
"Shaft": Richard Roundtree stars as private eye and general bad mother (shut your mouth!) John Shaft, who's tasked by a crime lord to find his kidnapped daughter. (Friday, February 5)
"Cleopatra Jones": Tamara Dobson is a black female secret agent tasked with cracking down on drug-trafficking in the U.S., a mission which pits her against a notorious drug lord known as Mommy (Shelley Winters). (Friday, February 12)
"Uptown Saturday Night": Sidney Poitier (who also directs) and Bill Cosby star as two buddies who set out to recover a stolen wallet, which happens to hold a winning lottery ticket. With Harry Belafonte and Richard Pryor. (Friday, February 19)
"Willie Dynamite": After hitting rock-bottom, a New York City pimp looks to mend his ways and clean up his life with the help of a social worker. (Friday, February 26)