28-year-old Maya Cade is being called a Huffpost “Culture Shifter,” for the release of her latest project, “The Black Film Archive.” Birthed from a Twitter thread in the summer of 2020 where she asked her followers to contribute the names of some of their favorite Black films, Cade was inspired to curate an online space to find vintage and rare movies.
“I started the process of collecting these films in a thread,” Cade told the Huffpost, “when we were seeing Black Lives Matter marches and conversations about ‘Black films are only this. They’re only that.’ I just knew that there was a whole other world that people weren’t seeing.”
At the time of the archive’s conception, hot topics of debate around Black film included whether or not representation was enough, and if there was too much attention being granted to films that have been categorized as “trauma porn.” Many have criticized what they feel to be the commercialization of the Black struggle to capture the white gaze…and coin..
Cade was determined to show a varied range of Black cinema that deviated from dominant storylines. Growing up as a fan of old films, she felt it important to select films that showed characters with autonomy and self determination, even if they were movies shot by white directors.
“I really think about where the world that [filmmakers] have constructed for this actor ends and where their Black gestures, sense of being begins,” Cade said. “How they can do these head nods to Black people that we just understand. They add depth and love to these roles.”
When the Black Film Archive launched in August of 2021, it was met with applause and adoration, especially among those who have been searching for more than just on screen representation, but a range of roles, themes, and character motivations.
In order to prep the site and its offerings, Cade conducted months of research in and around her Brooklyn home. She wanted to learn more about the filmmakers behind the movies she loved, and so traveled to historical Black arts institutions such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, the Metrograph and the IFC.
“What Black Film Archive is doing is collating the knowledge,” Cade said. “What do I want to learn about Sidney Poitier, about even TV actors? What do I want to learn about LaWanda Page? What can I gravitate toward?”
Currently on the site, Black film enthusiasts can find classics like “Sepia Cinderella,” “Enter The Dragon,” and “Emma Mae.” You can search the archive by decade, genre, and learn more about Black film icons like Marvin Van Peebles, and Sidney Poitier.