In every era, black filmmakers from LA struggle to tell their stories

Long before it became the norm to document all aspects of one’s life, filmmaker Gregory “G-Bone” Everett was ahead of his time.

Over the course of four decades, beginning in the 1980s, Everett compiled a vast archive of material ranging from in-depth interviews with the founders of the Southern California division of the Black Panthers, to behind-the-scenes content from dance parties in the ’80s and early’s. gangster rap music video set from the 90s.

“He always has [a camera] in the car, “said Everett’s friend, Dr. Daniel Walker, a writer and co-producer of this series, during an interview last year.” Some of the things [he captured] is just the B role and no one will ever see it. And then sometimes he caught some naughty gems. “

A black and white man in sweater and sunglasses.

Gregory Everett in his first production concert in 1982. | Lent by the Gregory Everett Archive

Everett was often present to capture movements that developed in the ‘hood’ years before reaching a national platform. His work is not only a valuable capsule of a moment in time, but an important record of the contributions of the black community to make LA what it is.

In the mid-1980s, he documented dance parties, which he organized and DJed for audiences under 21 years of age. Everret compiled footage of dance teams competing against each other on the dance floor, as well as interviews with the thousands of teens who came to watch them fight.

The movement, known as Ultra Wave, attracted celebrities and future celebrities like Ice T and Nia Long, today it is seen as a precursor to gangster rap from the west coast.

A collage of photos from the 1980s and 90s with flyers in the background.

In the 1990s, Everett documented another dance movement that took over known as Krumping. Everett directed hip-hop music videos at the time. Years later, celebrity photographer David LaChapelle portrayed the movement in “Rize,” an award-winning documentary.

“He understood the importance of [documentation], “Everett’s son, Jeffery, explains what motivated his father to not only document these subcultures, but also preserve the material.” He was a historian. It was important to have video evidence of what he did. “

“If you ever rode with him, for example, he would be the guy who would be like, ‘just there is Freedmen’s bank,’ and ‘you do not know, just there is such and such,'” Walker recalls .

An African American man on the phone while editing the Super 8 with a background of flyers.

Gregory Everett is working on the phone while editing Super 8 movies. Party flyers are used as background. | Photo courtesy of Rick “Rick Rock” Aaron. Flyers Lent by Lawrence Gilliam.

When Everett died last year of complications due to COVID-19, he most importantly left a young wife and two sons. But he also left behind a massive archive of untold stories and incomplete projects.
Searching all that material without having in-depth knowledge of its contents is a daunting task that no one has signed up for yet.

“The person who recorded the footage will sometimes be the only person who can understand some things,” explains filmmaker and friend Matthew McDaniel during an interview. Since 1986, McDaniel has accumulated hundreds of hours of footage of West Coast hip-hop icons such as Eazy E and NWA. About the same time, McDaniel met Everett at one of his parties.

In the early 2000s, McDaniel began digitizing and licensing his work. Eventually, he picked up an agent. Since then, he has licensed footage and photos for over 350 projects. “For another to come along [and make sense of the material]… it’s really hard. “

McDaniel says context is key. “The person holding the camera has a lot of backstory information.” The more time that passes, and the more recordings in the archive, the more challenging it is to go through, says McDaniel.

Two African American men shake hands in front of a Black Panther-designed wall.

Gregory Everett and Matthew McDaniel | Lent by Matthew McDaniel

“It’s something that G-bone and I shared, he certainly understood the importance of what was going on around him, a very potent time in history … the ’80s,” McDaniel says. “He was my dear friend, and I miss him very much.”

Like many of Los Angeles’ most respected black filmmakers who came before and after Everett and McDaniel, such as Jon Singleton and Ava Duvernay, the two friends told stories about their community from one person’s perspective. from community.

Best known for his award-winning, independently produced feature-length documentary “41st & Central: The Untold Story of the LA Black Panthers, Everett was motivated to tell the story in part because his father was a Black Panther.

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“That was the beauty and value of what Gregory’s work was. You know, he documented the Panthers in LA when other people were not or had not forgotten that story,” said Zeinabu Irene Davis, an independent filmmaker and professor in the Department of Communication. at the University of California, San Diego.

Davis established himself as a filmmaker at the end of the black filmmaking movement that took place at UCLA, known as The LA Rebellion. After the Watts uprising in 1965, UCLA and many other institutions implemented changes that spurred an influx of colored students into the university.

In the 1980s, Davis enrolled in a master’s degree at UCLA and became part of the movement. In 2015, she produced a documentary, “Spirits of The Rebellion,” which connects filmmakers from LA Rebellion and explores the movement’s impact on the legacy of black filmmaking.

Movie posters for "St.  Louis Blues," Do the right thing" and "Harlem is heaven." |  from the Special Cinema Archive;  with permission from the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

“People always talk about how things were burned down [during the Watts Uprising]. But they are not necessarily paying as much attention as they should to the organizations or institutions that came out of it, “Davis said in an interview with KCET.

The Watts uprising resulted in 34 deaths, tens of thousands of millions of dollars in injuries and more than a thousand injuries, but ultimately led to a reinvestment in society in other areas, such as art. “It opened up a space for people to come to UCLA, which was from black, brown, red, yellow communities,” Davis says.

In his film “Spirits of the Rebellion”, Davis describes the movement as “the first ongoing effort by a collective of black filmmakers in the United States to create a kind of cinema that is aware of the lives and concerns of their own communities.”

Completing a movie is a war. When you finish a movie, the next war is the neglect, the disinterested, the so-called industry that tells you that your mother’s story is invalid, it’s not a story.

Haile Gerima, filmmaker

LA Rebellion produced groundbreaking films such as “Bush Mama”, “Killer of Sheep” and “Urban Right For Purification” by filmmakers such as Julie Dash, Ben Caldwell and Haile Gerima. Many of the films that came out of the movement were experimental and unconventional in the narrative sense. But they also provided a rare glimpse into the black life of Los Angeles, which was rarely seen in the mainstream media.

In Gerima’s dissertation film “Bush Mama,” for example, the filmmaker inadvertently captured a tense and violent interaction between his film crew and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), in which the crew was briefly held under arms. Coincidentally, the film was a critique of the expansion of the police state. Despite the fact that the film was scripted, this unintentional scene was recorded on camera incorporated into the film.

Gerima, who was recently honored with the first vanguard award at the opening of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, is known for bypassing the traditional Hollywood system and distributing her own films.

“For black filmmakers, Chicano and Native American filmmakers, you have no choice. It’s all hostility you face,” Gerima said during a recent discussion with other UCLA degree Ava Duvernay. “Finishing a movie is a war. When you finish a movie, the next war is the neglect, the disinterested, the so-called industry that tells you that your mother’s story is invalid, it’s not a story.”

World premiere of "Sankofa"

Los Angeles, California – (LR) Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, ARRAY President Tinale Jones, director Haile Gerima and guests attend the world premiere of “Sankofa” on September 24, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | JC Olivera / Getty Images

“Yes. We would certainly entertain people, you know, people want to be entertained by the cinema … But I think you know, you do not always see yourself reflected in that kind of stories.” Davis, the professor from UCSD, said during an interview.

More contemporary Black creators like Everett, Singleton, Ice Cube, Duvernay and Issa Rae have similarly leaned on their unique perspectives and willingness to go their own way into an industry that is notoriously white and nepotistic.

John Singleton’s directorial debut feature film “Boyz N The Hood” is a story centered on growing up in southern LA, drawing from his own experiences growing up in Los Angeles. He wrote the film while applying to film school and sold it shortly after graduation.

The film launched the careers of Cuba Gooding Jr., Nia Long and Ice Cube, who at the time was known as a rapper. Years later, Ice Cube amassed a tight budget to make “Friday,” the semi-autobiographical stone-cult classic that offered a more playful view of life in the ‘hood’ and spawned a franchise.

Duvernay’s second feature film, ‘Middle of Nowhere’, offered a more nuanced look at life in Compton, the neighborhood where she grew up, with a budget of around $ 200,000. The film was shot in less than 20 days (most films take twice as long). Looking back on the film, Duvernay said she received three filming days more than her first feature film. “One day I might get out of my teens!” she joked with Indie Wire.

HBO celebrates the final season of 'Insecure' with Insecure Fest

Los Angeles, California – Tristen J. Winger, Leonard Robinson, Sarunas Jackson, Courtney A. Taylor, Yvonne Orji, Jean Elie, Issa Rae, Jay Ellis and Christina Elmore join HBO celebrating the final season of ‘Insecure’ with Insecure Fest in October 23, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for HBO

Recently, Issae Rae completed the fifth and final series of “Insecure,” a revolutionary show that seeped into the Los Angeles culture in which Rae plays an alter ego.

Like the filmmakers of LA Rebellion as well as Everett’s generation and more contemporary auteurs, uniting all these important black filmmakers is a desire to tell stories that reflect the communities they know and often grew up in, despite the odds.

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