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Archie Shepp has participated in the Jazz à La Villette music festival for a number of years, but always as a musician. This year, in addition to performing with Napoleon Maddox in a concert called Pfat Jam, Shepp also orchestrated a film festival that features African Americans and their stories on the silver screen.
The complete list of films shown is as follows:
Gone with the Wind
Cotton Comes to Harlem
The Jazz Singer
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75 (Avant-Premiere)
All were specifically selected by Shepp to illustrate for French audiences the evolution of the black presence in American film.
Archie Shepp studied drama at Goddard College in Vermont from 1955-1959 and sought work as an actor for some time afterward. He has written plays for theater as well – his play Junebug Graduates Tonight, described as a “jazz allegory,” was included in an anthology of plays written by blacks called Black Drama (1972; Woodie King, Jr. and Ronald Milner, authors).
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For an hour prior to the projection of Ossie Davis' Cotton Comes to Harlem on the evening of September 8th, Shepp addressed a largely French audience, explaining why he selected the films for this festival – “not necessarily because he liked them,” he said, but because he wanted to show the reality of blacks in American film during the decades that have recently passed. He told the stories of several actors, including Hattie McDaniel and Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen from Gone with the Wind, and expressed his opinion that though the blaxploitation era of American film was not advantageous to African Americans intellectually or esthetically, it did provide scores of blacks with a previously rare opportunity to work as actors, directors, and producers, as well as to produce musical scores.
Shepp distanced Melvin van Peebles’ legendary, independent film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song from the blaxploitation films of the era. He pointed out that racism is still prevalent in the U.S. film industry.
Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.
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