This profile is part of our Culture Shifters series, which highlights people changing how we think about the world around us. Read about internet star Keyon Elkins and rapper Latashá.
Like anyone who’s had a lifelong love affair with movies, Maya Cade struggles to say which movies from her vast personal collection she’d grab if she could only fit three in a bag on a long trip out of town.
“Oh, shoot,” she began during a video call in a cozy room reserved for an hour on a busy workday. “′Carmen Jones.” Well, I’m going to take it back. Let me think.”
After some internal debate — she would bring more movies in the event of, say, a fire — Cade gleefully chose “The Wiz” starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, the Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones novel.” Claudine” and filmmaker Kathleen Collins’ groundbreaking 1982 drama, Losing Ground. They are suitable for someone who has spent much time researching and managing the Black Film Archive, a website with equally underrated and less accessible gems.
This online treasure trove of vintage Black cinema takes just a few clicks before you’re thrown back to 1972 when actor Cicely Tyson endured as a mother and tenant farmer in 1930s Louisiana after her husband (played by Paul Winfield) was imprisoned in “Sounds.” Or perhaps you can go back to 1944 when the stories of black men’s contributions to the American war effort were told in the short documentary ‘The Negro Soldier’.
Spanning genres and eras up to 1979, the Black Film Archive is a balm for many frustrations about black people in movies you may have heard about online – such as the endless Black Trauma discourse or the lack of diverse Black experiences on the internet—The screen. For Cade, 28, the archive is a way for her to enter into these conversations, not from a scarcity mindset, but from one that references the plethora of cinematic options she painstakingly surfaced, with context and links to where they can now be streamed.
Like many cultural trends and events these days, the budding phase of the archive on Twitter began in June 2020.
“I started putting these movies together in a thread,” Cade recalls, “when we saw Black Lives Matter marches and conversations about ‘Black movies are just this. They’re just that.’ I just knew there was another world that people didn’t see.”
Cade remembers being the most diligent moviegoer in her immediate family growing up.
Gioncarlo Valentine for HuffPost
After receiving an overwhelming response to her Twitter thread, she decided to make it the site that now houses the archive of over 200 Black movies.
Cade’s voice was determined as she spoke of the many ways black culture has appeared in a film throughout history as opposed to the dominant dialogue. But she also considered where those grievances come from, suggesting that some people may approach older movies on the assumption that black characters lack autonomy. However, she sees black self-determination even in films from white studios and white directors.
“I think about where the world is” [filmmakers] for this actor ends and where their black gestures, the sense of being begins,” Cade said. “How to do these head nods to black people? We understand. They add depth and love to these roles.”
As determined as Cade is to counter some of the debate, she approaches everything she does, including the Black Film Archive, “with love.” It’s the same sensitivity she was raised with. Raised in New Orleans, Cade had “The Wiz” and “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” in heavy rotation — later including the original “Parent Trap” and hours of TCM. Back then, it wasn’t about a hunger for on-screen self-reflection but an odyssey of film.
“I always see myself when I watch a movie,” Cade said. “When I think of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, I see myself as this serious kid trying to navigate the world.”
“Before I realized there was a wealth of black cinema, I didn’t necessarily look at myself as a black person because I was much younger,” she continued. “I saw myself as I imagined myself to be, outside of outside contracts of whatever that is.”
Cade recalls being the most diligent moviegoer in her immediate family, excitedly talking about movies with her mother and brother, 17 months her junior, right after she stepped out of the cinema. It laid the foundation for her approach to how she can confer about movies with people who come to them with different experiences.
As Cade shared memories of watching movies like ‘John Q’ with her loved ones, she remembered smilingly how her mother would sometimes doze off at the cinema, yet wanted to hear her daughter’s perspective on a movie, even if she did. He did not. t catch a lot of it. For the Louisiana native, it was about talking to her mother about something she loved.
“She’s going to ask me, ‘Okay, what were the themes?” she said. ‘What was the message? What did you get from this? What did it remind you of?’ We would have an extensive conversation, which is fundamental to me.”
“People who love me enough to invest in what I’m interested in make me want to love other people enough to give them the tools to see what they might not have done,” Cade said.
Gioncarlo Valentine for HuffPost
This instilled in Cade a sense of curiosity and passion that she hopes to pass on to others. Even her former professors at Howard University, where she studied journalism and was a culture editor for the school newspaper, are quick to retweet articles about her and let her know how proud they are.
“People who love me enough to invest in what I’m interested in make me want to love other people enough to give them the tools to see what they might not have done,” she said.
And with that, we return to the Black Film Archive. The site was born in August 2021 of love and met love, especially from a community hungry for diverse on-screen display for years – whether due to a lack of streaming access to existing movies or being completely unaware.
Cade’s curiosity about the past led her down a rabbit hole to learn more about the films and filmmakers she’d adored. That meant many trips to black historical and art institutions like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, the Metrograph, and the IFC — just a subway ride from her Brooklyn adoption home.
“What Black Film Archive does is collect the knowledge,” Cade said. “What do I want to learn about Sidney Poitier, even about TV actors? What do I want to learn about LaWanda Page? Where can I go?”
As we spoke, these were the questions she pondered, a great conversation between two movie buffs that could have gone well past the allotted 60 minutes. But before we parted ways, she jotted down an idea for the site she had come up with during our conversation (perhaps something about adding more international films to the archive since we had discussed that).
What was true for Cade in 2020 when she first drafted the Black Film Archive is still true for her today.
“It’s just giving myself the grace and space to follow my intellectual lines that fueled my knowledge,” she said.
Thanks to Movie Forum.