October is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and recognise Black culture and history.
From classic horror films and documentary, to poetry and performance, check out what’s coming up in cinema and on Stage this month at Storyhouse.
In the cinema, we have the Bill Gunn’s revolutionary independent film Ganja & Hess (18). Featuring as part of our In Dream Are Monsters Halloween season, this film is a unique and radically black take on the vampire genre. With hallucinatory visuals, it not only reshaped the black imagination, it also changed what vampires could signify on screen. Although director Bill Gunn – riding a wave of blaxploitation bloodsuckers in the early 1970s – said “the last thing I want to do is make a black vampire film”, he paved a path for black filmmakers to use genre to say what is unsayable.
Black anthropologist Dr Hess Green (Duane Jones) is researching the Mythrians, an ancient African nation who ritually drank blood. When he is stabbed with one of their artefacts, a mystic dagger wielded by his deranged assistant Meda (director Bill Gunn), it awakens an unquenchable thirst. When Meda’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) searches for her husband, she is converted and learns to live with the demands put on her by her new life.
From producer Oprah Winfrey, Sidney is the revealing new documentary honouring the life of Sidney Poitier and his legacy as an iconic actor, filmmaker and activist at the centre of Hollywood and the Civil Rights Movement.
Featuring candid interviews with Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Robert Redford, Lenny Kravitz, Barbra Streisand, Spike Lee and many more, the film is also produced by Derik Murray, in close collaboration with the Poitier family.
Also featuring in the cinema is the spooky animated tale, Wendell and Wild (12A) is the first stop-motion to feature a Black female as a central protagonist.
From the delightfully wicked minds of Henry Selick (director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline) and Jordan Peele (Nope, Us, Get Out) comes the story of Kat (Lyric Ross), a troubled teen haunted by her past, who must confront her personal demons to start a new life in her old hometown.
Screening at Moonlight Flicks at The Carriage Shed, The Night of the Living Dead (15) stars zombie-slaying icon Duane Jones, who was the first Black actor to have a lead role in a mainstream horror film.
Few films begin a genre, and fewer still manage to stand up to the modern eye as genuinely scary and horribly relevant. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is a story of corpses rising from their graves, possessed by taste for human flesh. Following Ben (Duane Jones) and Barbra (Judith O’Dea) as they hole up to hide from the undead, this is a tale of survival and chaos, where your fellow man might be a greater risk than a ravenous cadaver.
Although the film – and its shambling menaces – speak to many times, it’s easy to map Civil Rights anxieties, the Vietnam War, government mistrust and violent protest onto the corpse of Night of the Living Dead.
And on stage, we welcome back Benjamin Zephaniah – activist, novelist, broadcaster and Storyhouse’s poet in residence! – to talk about his iconic collections of children’s poetry and stories as part of Wayword festival.
The event is ideal for young people who love reading and writing stories – plus kids will get the chance to ask Benjamin some questions of their own.
This is a very special event and a chance for families to be in the room with a writer who’s captured children’s imaginations for 40 years.
Laura Henry-Allain (creator of CBeebies’ JoJo and Gran Gran) will also take to the stage as part of Wayword festival to read from her picture book My Skin, Your Skin, a powerful book to help children and adults have meaningful discussions about race and anti-racism. There will also be a fun Q&A and activity session where children will draw and write about their families, their uniqueness and what makes them great.
Laura Henry-Allain MBE, is an expert international award-winning Early Education specialist, author, scriptwriter and speaker. She is the creator of the well-loved CBeebies characters JoJo and Gran Gran and is also the series’ associate producer. She is the vice-president of The British Association for Early Childhood Education, and is an educational consultant for several well-known brands as well as children’s media, television and publishing, particularly in the areas of inclusion, racial equality and diversity.
Also, taking to the stage is Forgotten Voices, a one woman play inspired by the life of South African freedom fighter Eva Moorhead Kadalie, who helped pave the way for Nelson Mandela. This month marks the perfect opportunity to remember and celebrate her life.
Ever wanted to write a play about your family? Writer David Moorhead is also leading a writing workshop. Find out more here.
Finally, looking forward towards November, we’ll be celebrating Black and Queer British poetry with Dean Atta, Kayo Chingonyi, and Adam Lowe, as they join us as part of the Chester Literature Festival.