“The Black Arts Movement [of the 1960s] understood itself as an extension of the black liberation struggle,” says Malika Imhotep. “[Writer] Toni Cade Bambara said the duty of the writer is to make revolution irresistible — I see myself a part of a creativity that was always intentioned for the public good.”
Imhotep and Jamal Batts, doctoral candidates in African American studies, along with Oakland-based artist Leila Weefur, run a curatorial collective, The Black Aesthetic (TBA), that Weefur describes as creating "new discourse around black cinema and visual culture.”
Since 2016, TBA has been gathering community at E.M. Wolfman — a bookstore and arts hub in downtown Oakland — to screen films and interrogate assumptions about race, identity, and society. While Oakland faces challenges to its legacy as a center of black culture and political action, TBA serves as a creative response to a mainstream culture that offers very limited exposure for the work of black artists.
“We try to invite as many voices to the table as possible,” says Batts, noting they occasionally screen films by non-black filmmakers.
The collective publishes criticism, poetry, personal essays, and photography inspired by the films they screen and discuss. In 2018, TBA hosted an overflowing crowd for a screening at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which subsequently invited the group to select rarely seen films for a series called “Black Interiors.” Focusing on work, spirituality, intimacy, and other aspects of black lives, the series explores what it means to be a human being in general and a black person in America in particular.