[Review] The Black Cinema Club screens Blaxploitation film ‘Five on the Black Hand Side’


I remember when Adulthood came out a few years ago. My local cinema was as packed as an under-18s rave. A boy got stabbed there that night. Towards the end of last year Channel 4 screened gripping drama Top Boy across four consecutive nights. A few days ago, as part of BBC 3’s ‘Crime season,’ viewers were treated to a re-enactment of the honey-trap killing of Shakilus Townsend in ‘My Murder.’ While these productions are all brilliantly written, and do well to showcase the huge amount of talented young black actors in the UK, they all portray a stereotype that many black Britons refuse to identify with. The Black Cinema Club has been set up in response to the growing number of ‘urban’ dramas that we are forced to accept as a reflection of life for people of African descent.

Established in October 2011, the club hosts free monthly events all over London (with plans to expand across the UK) screening films that portray black characters in a more positive light. I recently attended a screening of blaxploitation film, ‘Five on the Black Hand Side’ in Camberwell. The evening was well-attended – with a range of ages and backgrounds represented – and technical difficulties allowed time for discussion and debate about the aims of the Black Cinema Club and people’s thoughts on the way their communities were being portrayed in mainstream TV and film.

The film itself was funny, thoughtful, chaotic and full of the most heinous fashion crimes of the 70s. Most importantly it managed to portray a black middle class American family embracing their African roots in the noisiest possible way. No criminal records, no drugs, no screaming baby mothers. Despite it being released in 1973, a whole 16 years before I was born, I was able to relate to the issues and characters in a way that I have struggled to do with recent efforts that seek to represent the black community.

It made me think that in 2012 black writers, filmmakers and creatives really need to start getting angry about the way we are portrayed in the mainstream media, and channel this energy into creating something better. I know how hard it is to get such projects into the mainstream; anyone who watched the hilarious web series ‘Awkward Black Girl’ will know that the creator is still struggling to get backing for further development from major TV producers. All I can say is that we need to keep working together and making a fuss until we see a breakthrough.

In the meantime, the Black Cinema Club will continue to provide an alternative cinema experience for those that are looking for a deeper message. And if anyone is interested in watching an ensemble drama that includes a young black Jamaican law student as he tries to build a life in the UK, from the 60s to the present day, check out White Heat on BBC 2 and BBC iPlayer.