BGT is approaching its second birthday (we can’t believe it!) and we’re delighted to have a new team member joining us as we move into our second year and continue to expand. Fanta Sylla has joined BGT as our new social media editor, and as you’ll see from the interview below which she conducted, Fanta is a wonderful addition to the BGT crew. Fatima, Ramou, Aurelia and Alesia will still continue to post content and, of course, record the podcast and you can still always reach us all here or through Twitter. Welcome Fanta!
Creating a space to show films which document the future from a non-western, non-white and queer perspective, that was the desire behind THE FUTURE WEIRD a film screening series co-founded by Derica Shields and Megan Eardley that explores experimental, speculative and sci-fi films from Africa, the Global South or directed by people of color. We discussed this project with Derica Shields, as well as the concept of what is weird, and whether the future should be saved. — interviewed by f. sylla
Black Girls Talking: Remote Control is the fifth instalment of THE FUTURE WEIRD after Non-Resident Aliens, Supra-Planetary Sovereigns and Visions of Excess. Can you talk about this project and what the inspiration was behind it?
Derica Shields: The Future Weird was born in July 2013 and there have been five programs: Visions of Excess; In Search of a Black Atlantis; Supra-planetary Sovereigns collaboration with Spectacle Theater); Remote Control; and Non-Resident Aliens.
The Future Weird emerged from a number of desires. I’d been wanting to do a screening series for a really long time. There were so many films by black and brown directors which I’d heard about but couldn’t find anywhere, or which I had seen and thought were interesting but they had not secured distribution. So one aim was just to screen these films because they weren’t readily available online or in theatres.
When I thinking about the screenings, I was keen to get away from a tendency I’d noticed to treat African film as though it’s a genre. I’m increasingly compelled by the move to theorise from the global south, rather than the north/West and wanted to have a space where we could privilege the conversations among black and brown people, without the constant reference to whiteness that emerges as a norm in white dominated spaces. So the screenings are organised thematically, and in that way, they tend to follow certain trains of thought or circle around ideas. “In Search of a Black Atlantis” came out of thinking I’d been doing while at grad school and before, since I’ve long been obsessed with water as a site of black cultural memory, loss, forgetting and rebirth. The films look at water as a cleansing force, what returns to us in the water as detritus, and as a site of myth too - black mermaids, mami water, drexciya/atlantis.
Another reason was that I’d moved to New York and it was lonely. I wanted to find people I could talk with about the things I was thinking about. In some part I also wanted to watch these films with other people rather than have this atomized YouTube viewing experience.
BGT: How do you select your films?
Shields: I usually have one or two films that are in my head at any given time, and then I’ll tease out threads from it and try and find points of connection with other films that I’ve seen or read about. Sometimes it involves lots of casting about - writing to people asking them to send you screeners of their films. I also keep a notebook with a list of films I want to screen and I’ll look over that looking for the nexus of interrelations.
BGT: What is your definition of weird?
Shields: Weird means unruly, uncontained, and situated outside of the mainstream, or at an awkward angle to it. Weird is the creative invention of the marginalised majority. It’s like, people from populations who are exposed to destitution and premature death and organised abandonment are making things. I’m not trying to say that every black, brown, woman or queer filmmaker is from an abject social position, but currently our systems of recognition still fail to register black, brown, queer, trans* work as work, or art as art, or thinking as thinking. With The Future Weird I want people to get in a room and talk about the work itself, not just to “celebrate” it in this liberal way which is like a pat on the head, but to say “hey we recognise your art/work/thinking and we are here to talk and think about it.”
The word weird also invites invention and reimagination rather than acceptance of the terms already on offer. Weird means an end to bargaining for inclusion on other people’s terms, and in turn, struggling towards your own terms for art, thought, politics, prosperity…. As a younger person I was definitely weird, but I as I got older I increasingly caved to the discipline of fancy universities, I stopped being weird, which meant that I stopped demanding what seemed impossible. But imagining and then demanding what seems impossible is so powerful, especially when our world is so inadequate and deadly.