14.2 / Glenville / Allyson Nadia Field

Black One Shot stages brevity and precision in response to the art of blackness, contemporary and/or prescient. At 1000 words a pop, these pieces divest from academic respectability to inhabit the speculative, ambivalent, irreconcilable ways of black forms, and move through the fires this time. Seditiously, we are object forward, conjuring up the necessary intimacy generated between a critic and their object and keyed to the channels and frequencies of blackness. We hold fast to the given/taken works, the cultural productions without reduction, the condition of knowing all-too-well, and the imagining of something otherwise. Object love in the time of pandemics and insurrections. 

b.O.s. will run the course of summer 2020, come what may. We invite you to follow and share hard. Thanks to all the contributors and special thanks to Abram Foley, Aurelie Matheron, and Irenae Aigbedion of ASAP/J.

– Lisa Uddin and Michael Boyce Gillespie (Editors)

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Something Good-Negro Kiss (William Selig, 1898).

Filmmaker Kahlil Pedizisai came across the 1898 short film Something Good-Negro Kiss during its viral circulation across social media following the film’s addition to the National Film Registry in December 2018.1 In that rare surviving artifact of early cinema, the earliest known filmic representation of African American affection, a couple laugh and kiss for the camera in a remarkably non-caricatured manner, especially given the prevalence of racist depictions of Black people in early film. Pedizisai shared Something Good with collaborator Kevin Jerome Everson, and they immediately set out to make a version by restaging and resituating it on a street corner in the Glenville neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio.2 As I helped to identify the rediscovered early film, and have a longstanding interest in Everson’s work, I’ve been particularly interested in Glenville.

Filmed in HD by Pedizisai and 16mm by Everson, Glenville is a ninety second film comprised of six shots of a Black man and women flirting and kissing. Set on New Year’s Eve, the couple hold hands and repeatedly embrace outside of the Red Apple Supermarket at the corner of Eddy and Oakview.3 At first glance it might seem like a straightforward re-creation, an homage, or even playful parody of the nineteenth century kissers. Yet, while both films are staged performances of Black love, Glenville situates its couple’s performance at a site of resistance and insurgence.

Glenville (Kahlil Pedizisai and Kevin Jerome Everson, 2020)

In both Glenville and Something Good, the couple perform affection and perform performing affection.4 By manipulating the medium itself with six camera set-ups, the use of two different formats, and the scratch lines caused by Everson’s damaged Bolex camera, Pedizisai and Everson purposefully refute the idea of film as a window rather than a mediated object. Indeed, through Glenville, Pedizisai and Everson remind the viewer that Something Good’s staging of Black love is precisely that—a staging—contesting the reception of the rediscovery of Something Good as a glimpse of unvarnished #BlackLove. Still, recognizing the performativity of Glenville’s lovers does not diminish the affective power of their gestures. The film’s performance of Black love acts as the pretext for Glenville’s political ambition. Situating this performance at a contested site recalls Darnell L. Moore’s assertion, “At the root of Black resistance—the collective struggle through which we might imagine and build a world more just, more free, more equitable, more magical—is love.”5

As with a number of Pedizisai and Everson’s collaborations, Glenville centers on Black people in situations and environments shaped and circumscribed by legacies of systemic racism.6 While the 1898 film is set against the plain canvas backdrop of William Selig’s Chicago studio, Glenville is far more expansive and specific in its invocation of place. With bodega signs, cigarette promotions, and clientele moving in and out of the frame, the mise-en-scène of the Red Apple Supermarket and the street corner at Eddy and Oakview is as important as the gestures and movements of the actors. Even more than a bodega in a food desert, though, Glenville is a historical site of urban rebellion, namely the July 1968 “Glenville Shootout” between Cleveland police and the Black Nationalists of New Libya. Consequently, it is has become a site of the resultant de jure and de facto suppression of the community and its environment—the “ongoing price that people have to pay for insurrections,” as Pedizisai notes. Thus, the choice of this area for the film indexes the long-term systemic disinvestment in lower income Black and Brown communities that has resulted in massive health disparities and foreclosed opportunities. The precarious margin between liberation and oppression, between celebration and threat, is even echoed in Glenville’s soundtrack—muffled, but distinguishable, rat-a-tat-tats—the DIY fireworks display of automatic gunfire on New Year’s Eve. The film’s sound serves as an aural palimpsest of insurrection and celebration that binds 1968 to today. The display of love may be centered, but it is framed against this coupled and complex history.

Glenville (Kahlil Pedizisai and Kevin Jerome Everson, 2020)

From the vantage of our moment, Glenville also stands as a testament to the risk attendant to seemingly innocent physical connection. My engagement with Glenville in the summer of 2020 has been inflected by several concurrent and compounding factors, including the national failure to contain the spread of COVID-19; the risk of physical proximity and compromised intimacy in the midst of the pandemic; the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on African Americans; widespread and large-scale protests against police violence toward Black people in the wake of the circulation of video of the killing of George Floyd in May 2020.7 From the perspective of now, Glenville is suspended between the past of 1898—the long dormancy when Something Good-Negro Kiss had yet to (re)reveal itself—and the current moment of “pandemics and insurrections.” Glenville reminds us of the radical possibility of Black love, sites of violence and rebellion, and the danger and desire for physical connection.

The act of love that Pedizisai and Everson place on the streets of East Cleveland is a reclamation of the site’s legacy of Black resistance, an expression of hope on the precipice of a new year. Now, with the ravages of COVID-19 on health, livelihood, community, and the experience of interpersonal connection, it remains an open question what the future holds for Glenville, its people, and even the nation.

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This is one of five essays from the fourteenth transmission of b.O.s. (Black One Shot). Read the other essays here:

b.O.s. 14.1 / Somesay-Someday / L.H. Stallings

b.O.s. 14.3 / Bag Lady in Flight / Sampada Aranke

b.O.s. 14.4 / Claudette’s Star / Matthew Barrington

b.O.s. 14.5 / Habla Lamadre / Courtney Desiree Morris

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Lisa Uddin is author of Zoo Renewal: White Flight and the Animal Ghetto (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), and has recent writing in the volume Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), ASAP/J, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Postmodern Culture. She’s here for the freedom.

Michael Boyce Gillespie is the author of Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (Duke University Press, 2016). His recent work has appeared in Black Light: A Retrospective of International Black Cinema, Flash Art, Unwatchable, and Film Quarterly. He hopes that people are still outraged in November.

Endnotes

  1. In January 2017, film archivist Dino Everett sent me scans from a recently rediscovered nitrate print of a c.1900 short film depicting a Black couple laughing and repeatedly embracing and kissing. Over the next year and with much help, I positively identified the film as Something Good-Negro Kiss, produced by William Selig in Chicago in 1898 and featuring vaudeville performers Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown. I am indebted to Everett, archivists at MoMA and the Library of Congress, and the insights of other silent film historians for their help in identifying and dating the film and its performers. For more on the process of identifying the film see: https://news.uchicago.edu/story/silent-film-black-couples-kiss-discovered-added-national-film-registry and https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/movies/ct-mov-allyson-nadia-field-named-academy-film-scholar-0621-20190619-t6s5imdcyjd3dceild6cbj3dvq-story.html.
  2. All information about the production of Glenville and quotes from the filmmakers are taken from an interview between the author and Kahlil Pedizisai and Kevin Jerome Everson on July 13, 2020.
  3. In Everson’s own summary of the film, Glenville is described as taking place “during a New Year’s Eve celebration” but was actually shot a few days later around 6pm.
  4. The performers are Cleveland-based professional actors Sabrina McPherson and Hakeem Sharif.
  5. Darnell L. Moore, “Black Radical Love: A Practice.” Public Integrity, 20, 2018: 325.
  6. Emergency Needs (2007) and Fe 26 (2014) are representative, though Everson’s larger oeuvre is concerned with “the gestures or tasks caused by certain conditions in the lives of working-class African Americans and other people of African descent,” as he expresses in his artist statement.
  7. I first learned of Glenville at the end of February 2020 after a visit to the Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University to present my research on Something Good-Negro Kiss. Afterwards, the BFC/A’s Director Terri Francis told me about Everson’s film just before the stay-at-home orders were being announced across the country.
Allyson Nadia Field
Allyson Nadia Field is the author of Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film & The Possibility of Black Modernity (Duke University Press, 2015). She is also, with Marsha Gordon, co-editor of Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film (Duke University Press, 2019) and with Jan-Christopher Horak and Jacqueline Stewart, co-editor of L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (University of California Press, 2015). Field is Associate Professor Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago.