A rundown of the week’s cultural moments, books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
By Matt d’Ancona Above image: Clay Banks Friday 2 October, 2020 Long read
This week, we’re celebrating Black History Month: all the more resonant in 2020, a year horribly overshadowed by the killing of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, energised by the Black Lives Matter protests, and given fresh urgency by Donald Trump’s shameful refusal to condemn White supremacist groups outright in Tuesday’s first presidential debate (‘stand down and stand by’).
Black History Month has been marked in the UK since October 1987 when it was inaugurated by the Ghanaian activist and Special Projects Officer at the Greater London Council, Akyaaba Addai-Sebo (who was interviewed to mark its 30th anniversary in 2017 by the cultural commentator and campaigner Patrick Vernon).
Addai-Sebo took his inspiration from the week of celebrations, cultural activities and studies launched in the US by the historian Carter G Woodson in February 1926, to counteract the vile caricature of African-Americans as a lesser race without a meaningful history. By 1970, the week had been extended to a month, formally recognised as part of the American calendar six years later to mark the US Bicentennial.
Woodson had selected February because of the close proximity of the respective birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (12 February) and Frederick Douglass (14 February). In the UK, Addai-Sebo opted for October when ‘children were fresh after the long summer vacation and had less to worry about exams and tests and the camaraderie was stronger as they shared experiences’.
In spite of the challenges of the pandemic, this year’s events are more innovative, creative and broad-ranging than ever. They are a celebration of Black identity and its past. But they are also a challenge to non-Black communities to understand and respect the centuries of suffering, oppression, resistance and creativity underpinning the core principle that Black lives matter.
The streaming giant is marking Black History Month with a collection of movies, television series and short films curated by the award-winning filmmaker Adeyemi Michael. It includes Sarah Gavron’s magnificent portrayal of east London teens, Rocks, the 1990s barber shop sit-com Desmond’s and Michael’s own 2018 film, Entitled.
Black, British And Funny With Mo Gilligan (15 October, Channel 4, 10pm)
Gilligan’s exploration of the Black British stand-up comedy scene headlines a season of five special films to mark BHM, also including Yomi Adegoke’s Black Love, and Black Hair, presented by Emma Dabiri (author of the acclaimed Don’t Touch My Hair).
400 Years Taking The Knee (4 October, Sky History, 9pm)
This two-part documentary presented by Dotun Adebayo launches a series of broadcasts on Sky History, including the UK premiere of Slaveship Mutiny (11 October, 9pm) and Aftershock: Beyond The Civil War (25 October, 9pm). The channel will also be inviting nominations on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to its 31 Faces Of Black British History project, with regular updates on the website history.co.uk.
Black History Month On CBBC
The Beeb is hosting a wealth of material and resources for younger viewers online.
We Are Tano (1-20 October)
The festival of African film will be streamable at wearetano.org, featuring 10 contemporary African features from the past decade – including the 2014 documentary Beats Of The Antonov, directed by jailed Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka. Free to stream, donations encouraged.
Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye
A superb study of Black identity in the 21st century, full of insights into the use of language and cultural symbols. Boakye will be discussing his work with Dr Fraser Mann, Senior Lecturer in Literature at York St John University, on 21 October. Book tickets here for this online event.
Check out the Booker Prize winner’s Top 20 Books by Black British Womxn Writers for Waterstones.
Caste: The Lies That Divide Us by Isabel Wilkerson
Already hailed as one of the great non-fiction books of 2020, this extraordinary exploration of the caste system that underpins racial injustice is every bit as good as Wilkerson’s The Warmth Of Other Suns (2010). You can watch her discussion of the book with Tortoise here.
Lambeth Libraries Black History Month 2020
A fine season of online literary and historical events, featuring Rosanna Amaka, Okechukwu Nzelu and Tessa McWatt.
There is no shortage of playlists to mark BHM on Spotify and Apple Music.
For podcasts, try the BBC’s Witness Black History, About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge, Afua Hirsch’s We Need To Talk About The British Empire, and George the Poet’s Have You Heard George’s Podcast?
Also: don’t miss Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History (BBC iPlayer, available until 30 October) with Lenny Henry and Suzy Klein.
Here are some of the many exhibitions marking Black History Month:
The Pioneers by Garfield Mckenzie, Bristol
A series of McKenzie’s photographic portraits at St Pauls Learning Centre until December.
INxSANIxTY: Gidan Tunani (House Of Thought), London (1-5 October)
Multi-media social commentary at the Copeland Gallery in Peckham.
Digging Deep: Coal Miners Of African Caribbean Heritage, Northumberland (until 1 November)
As part of the Black Miners Museum Project, the Woodhorn Museum features images of Afro-Caribbean colliers and their neglected part in the history of British mining.
Windrush: Portrait Of A Generation by Jim Grover, London
This photo-essay by Jim Grover is at Brixton Library until December. To book a free time slot, please call 020 7926 1058.
Stay safe, and enjoy October.
Editor and Partner