Barbara Felix grew up thinking of herself as a Latina, even as many around her told her she looked Black. Eventually, she discovered the truth of her mixed heritage, an experience recounted in her innovative short film Liminality of Self: Transitioning Reflections of Color and Culture, a 12-minute self-portrait made using a two-way mirror and rotoscope animation.
In the film, Felix concludes that when asked to check a box to describe her ethnicity, she would prefer to answer “All of the above.”
That range of self-reflection, societal pressures, stereotypes and triumphs based on racial consciousness — as well as Liminality of Self — are all present in Beautifully Black, a monthlong event featuring art, performances and film screenings at Slab Cinema Arthouse in the Blue Star Arts Complex.
Beautifully Black opens Thursday with a 6 p.m. performance by San Antonio sound artist Xavier Gilmore, followed by free screenings of short films by Texas filmmakers Thursday and Friday evenings.
Programming will continue with a series of feature-length films beginning Saturday with Walk on the River, a locally-produced Black history of the Alamo City, plus classic and new films running each week. Visual art by San Antonio-based Black artists — including Kaldric Deshon Dow, Akaimi “the Artist” Davis, DeAnna Brown and Felix — will also be on view throughout the month.
Slab Cinema co-founder Angela Martinez initially approached Felix with the idea of a Black film series. Felix compiled “a huge spreadsheet of Black industry films” — Felix uses the term “industry” to categorize movies produced by major studios — then decided to include independent films from Black Texas filmmakers.
Felix connected with Ada Babineaux, a filmmaker and organizer of the San Antonio Black International Film Festival. Babineaux helped select an array of short films not generally available to audiences outside of the festival circuit.
Among the 18 Black San Antonio directors included are Ya’Ke Smith, 2018 NAACP Cinematic Shorts Competition winner Dee Wayne, Cedric Thomas Smith, Michael L. Jackson, Hallease Narvaez, Babineaux and Felix, who has recently extended her movement-based performance work to video, following her exhibition The Glorious Way She Moves at the Carver Community Cultural Center.
Featured movies by major studios range from popular hits of the 1980s such as Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka by Keenan Ivory Wayans, to landmark films including 1961’s A Raisin in the Sun, Cooley High (1975) and Daughters of the Dust (1991).
The slate also includes international films Mandabi and Touki Bouki from 1960s and 1970s Senegal, and Black Orpheus, released in 1959, which reset the ancient Greek myth amid Carnival in 20th century Rio de Janeiro.
While some films address what Felix described as “heavy” topics, she said, “I really wanted it to be more of a celebration of Black excellence, a place where people could come and understand or see a little bit of the Black experience.”
In a moment when racial consciousness is being hemmed in by political efforts to limit education, Babineaux said exploring cultures other than one’s own can serve to broaden perspectives.
“The ultimate goal for any type of cultural exchange, when it comes to cinema, is for people to have a cultural pluralistic view,” she said, “and respect for films that have different races, different subject matters, different stories, different voices.”
Detailed information on the films included in Beautifully Black can be found on the Slab Cinema Arthouse website. While the Texas filmmaking showcases are free, most films are $10. A monthlong pass is available for $160, and the cinema offers options for annual memberships.