The Legacy of Black Gen-X Filmmakers | black writers week

That moment of reassessment and reckoning has arrived for my generation, which has been known by the unusually enduring moniker of Generation X. Months ago, Melissa Tamminga, program director of the venerable community arthouse theater in Bellingham, Washington, the Pickford Film Center, asked me: , if I wanted to program a monthly series as a guest. The first thing I thought of was the work of African-American Gen-X filmmakers. And since then, the conversation about Gen-X has skyrocketed. Just a few weeks ago, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced a program of all Generation X orchestral composers.

The moment makes sense. The term “Generation X,” as applied to people born between the mid-1960s and late 1970s (the generational advance would later move the demarcation line to 1982), arose in 1991 when Canadian author Douglas Coupland published the novel Generation X: Tales of a Fast-Track Culture about young people coming of age in the wake of the Go-Go Eighties and the Me Decade before that.

And just as the term was taking root (after mercifully usurping the previous generational moniker that was “The MTV Generation”), African-American filmmakers of Generation X were making their debut. It all started with John Singleton and his landmark debut “Boyz N the Hood,” which opened in July 1991 to great acclaim and made Singleton the youngest person to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director at the age of 24 years.

Just before Singleton, Matty Rich (b. 1971) came out with his first feature “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” made with grit, determination, $450,000 and a month of film school. One movie was independent, the other was a studio movie, but both indicated the same thing: the African-American Gen-X auteur had arrived.

Of course, these films were shaped by many social forces and the reverberations of historical change. First, Generation X itself was summed up as the children of Watergate, Vietnam, the aftermath of the civil rights/black liberation movements, the dawn of the gay rights movement, second wave feminism, and the divorce. We were a significantly smaller generation than the Baby Boomers that came before us. And in many ways we had to fend for ourselves. We were the Latchkey Kids who usually went back to an empty house and let the TV take care of us until a parent came along. Over time, we would find ourselves dwarfed on both sides, as Millennials came to outnumber us by significant margins. The ’60s Boomer experience had a double impact on us: It provided an almost unattainable standard for social activism, and it also gave us a post-’60s cynicism that defines us to this day. Utopianism, we were taught both tacitly and explicitly, was a fool’s concern. This is as good as it gets and if you don’t accept it and stick with the show, you’re a bigger fool than the derision-worn old hippies in much of pop culture.

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