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Conscious Cinema film series creates connections with Black history and social justice movements

Screenshots of the films “The Black Power Mixtape” and “The Big Payback,” both of which will be screening as part of the Conscious Cinema film series this summer. (Courtesy of Youtube)

By Jonathan Bigall, Signal Tribune

The summer film series invites multigenerational audiences to learn about Black-centered movements and speak to modern day activists.

A group of residents, friends and budding activists sat and viewed a film documenting the might of small communities during the Civil Rights Movement at the Expo Arts Center on Aug. 31. The audience got a reprieve from the summer heat while connecting to their history and learning through a panel discussion afterwards. 

The viewing was the first of three Conscious Cinema Black-centered social justice screenings being hosted this summer by Long Beach Forward and Hannibal Media Group. 

The goal is to connect social justice movements of the past with modern-day organization efforts and encourage dialogue between generations. 

When Pastor David Zaid watched “Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power,” he was moved by the power of community in the documentary. He held a viewing of the film for his congregation at the Long Beach Philadelphian Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which led to its inclusion as the first Conscious Cinema film.

The documentary, which originally began streaming on Peacock in 2022, follows Black residents and activists in Lowndes County, Alabama as they fought for voting rights and against discriminatory redlining following the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Screenshot from the film “The Black Power Mixtape” which will be screened as the second film of the Conscious Cinema series this summer. (Courtesy of Youtube)

Zaid said a crucial moment in the film was when the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee reached out to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for help. King was not able to extend much support to Lowndes due to other obligations, but Zaid said seeing the strength of the community coming together in spite of that inspired him.

“That message in the film resonated with me because I think when you grow up on cartoons and superheroes, you’re always going to believe the hero is going to rescue you,” Zaid said. “Sometimes you realize that the hero is not always coming, the hero is you.”

The film also inspired non-profit Long Beach Forward Communications Director Melissa Morgan, who helped organize the film series and said she was pleased with the diversity in the audience.

After the film, a live panel consisting of Long Beach civil rights activists and experts, including Hannibal Media Group President Greg Johnson, discussed the film with the audience.  

Johnson, a seasoned broadcaster and former United States Marine Corps aircraft weapons technician, said that since now is a “critical time” with the upcoming primary election, he wants to see more young people being enriched by the films in the series. He also acknowledged the film series can benefit a multigenerational audience.

“As we look at our place in America, I would hope that people really learn that it is essential to exercise their right to vote,” Johnson said. “These are the messages that are being transmitted.”

A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. is prominently displayed at the Long Beach park, bearing his name on Oct. 3, 2022. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

On Sep. 14, “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” will play at Grey Long Beach (237 Long Beach Blvd. unit B) at 5:30 p.m. This Swedish documentary provides a view of the Black Power movement in America over eight years juxtaposed with interviews of famous Black artists and activists such as Angela Davis, Questlove and Erykah Badu.

The final showing will be on Sep. 16 at 2 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Park (1950 Lemon Ave.), with a screening of “The Big Payback.” The film tells the story of the first tax-funded reparations for African Americans, a movement led by an Illinois woman in government. 

Details regarding parking, accessibility and other information can be found on the Long Beach Forward website. It is recommended to RSVP for tickets by either visiting www.lbforward.org/consciouscinema or emailing hello@lbforward.org

Tickets for Conscious Cinema screenings are free, but donations are encouraged. Street and paid garage parking are available, though carpooling or public transportation is encouraged.

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