– Autumn/Winter 2018

Recasting History: The Transformative Cinema of Steve McQueen and Raoul Peck

Karen Alexander

Raoul Peck, Haitian Corner, 1987, film, 1h 38min. © Photogrammes DR. Courtesy the artist and Institut Français, Paris

Steve McQueen, Bear, 1993, film, 16mm, 9min 2sec. Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

We are misled here because we think in numbers.

You don’t need numbers you need passion.

– James Baldwin1

This spring 2018, posters for the latest global tour of Beyoncé and Jay-Z are peppered around London. They depict Mr and Mrs Carter astride a motorbike, and perched between the handlebars is a skull of an ox. The black and white image is a direct restaging of a sequence in the groundbreaking film ​Touki Bouki ​(1973) by the Senegalese film-maker Djibril Diop Mambéty. The same image was used in the original film poster.2 Filmed in vibrant technicolour, Mambéty’s story centres on a rebellious, culturally inquisitive young couple who dream of escaping the mundane predictability of their hometown of Dakar for the perceived freedom, glitz and glamour of Paris. Hailed as Africa’s first experimental film production, Mambéty’s film is a poetic examination of Senegalese modernism. In referencing this iconic image Beyoncé continues her recognition and citing of game-changing black productions and pioneering artists

  1. I Am Not Your Negro, dir. Raoul Peck, United States, Velvet Film, Altitude, 2016 [DVD].

  2. Jordan Darville, ‘Here’s the Senegalese film that inspired the On the Run II poster’, The Fader [online magazine], 13 March 2018, available at http://www.thefader.com/2018/03/13/sengalese- film-touki-bouki-on-the-run-2-posters (last accessed on 8 April 2018).

  3. See Beyoncé’s performance of ‘Déjà Vu’, live at Fashion Rocks, London, 2006, available at https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5AF7Beaqz8 (last accessed on 18 April 2018).

  4. The Black Film and Video Workshops were established in the wake of the uprisings of the early 1980s.Through the launch of Channel 4 television a unique relationship was established between independent film-makers, broadcasters, local councils and the trade union for the production of broadcast content aimed at minority communities.

  5. Stuart Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation’, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, no.36, 1989, pp.68–81.

  6. Kaleem Aftab ‘“The Future is What We See It to Be”: Raoul Peck on James Baldwin, Karl Marx and The Young Karl Marx’, Filmmaker Magazine [online magazine], 5 March 2018, available at https://filmmakermagazine.com/104889-the-future-is-what-we-see-it-to-be-raoul-peck-on-james- baldwin-karl-marx-and-the-young-karl-marx/#.WuicVcixWCQ (last accessed on 8 April 2018).

  7. Alan Read (ed.), The Fact of Blackness: Frantz Fanon and Visual Representation, London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1996, p.173. The publication accompanied the 1995/1996 show Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference & Desire curated by David A. Bailey at the Institute for Contemporary Arts, London. Work made by McQueen and Peck was featured. McQueen was represented in the gallery exhibition with his installation work Five Easy Pieces (1995) and Peck’s feature L’homme sur les quais (The Man By The Shore, 1993) had a theatrical run in the cinema. In the transcript of the panel, Film Makers Dialogue, Peck was joined by Isaac Julien, Martina Attille, Homi Bhabha and Mark Nash.

  8. Ibid., p.173

  9. Bobby Sands was a member of the Irish Republican Army, who led the hunger strikes at Belfast’s Maze prison in 1981 in a bid to regain Special Category Status for IRA inmates who considered themselves political prisoners. After refusing food for 66 days he died on 5 May 1981. After his death nine other hunger strikers followed.

  10. Preface to Sometimes in April, dir. Raoul Peck, Rwanda, France, and United States, HBO Films, 2005 [DVD].

  11. ‘James Baldwin Interview, 1980 Part 3’, untitled and uncredited, available at https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=emiKF7_4esQ, uploaded 1 August 2009 (last accessed on 8 June 2018).

  12. I Am Not Your Negro, dir. R. Peck, op. cit.

  13. Sometimes in April, dir. R. Peck, op. cit. See audio commentary by Peck conducted by Elvis Mitchell.