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Manthia Diawara, John Akomfrah Team To Co-Direct Feature Doc On Kathleen Cleaver

by Tambay A. Obenson
July 12, 2013 1:11 PM
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K Cleaver

Talk about an intriguing director(s)/subject pairing.

Filmmaker, scholar, distinguished professor at New York University, and director of the Institute of Afro-American AffairsManthia Diawara and British-Ghanaian experimental filmmaker John Akomfrah (who I don't think needs much of an intro around here), have teamed up to co-direct a documentary on the life of Kathleen Cleaver - once member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and eventual Spokesperson for the Black Panther Party (the first woman on its central committee), and wife of the party's Minister Of Information, Eldridge Cleaver.

The USA/Algeria/France co-production is titled Kathleen Cleaver and the Black Panther Symphonies, and will, as the press release states, illuminate, "not only the national history of the Black Panther Party and the American civil rights movements of the 1960s, but also the Algerian Revolution and the liberation struggles in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kathleen Cleaver’s untold story will reveal a remarkable life lived at the centre of those many watershed maelstorms."

Needless to say, this should be fascinating, given the two filmmakers behind the camera, as well as the subject matter, and I'm damned intrigued to see what they've been cooking.

The film is said to be in production, and was selected as 1 of 27 feature-length documentaries that will receive $490,000 in grant money from the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program and Fund (DFP) last year.

No word on when we can expect to see the end product, but I'll be looking for it to premiere at next year's Sundance Film Festival.

In the meantime, feel free to familiarize yourself with the filmmakers' works: Manthia Diawara authored two must-read texts on African cinema (books that I've come to use as references from time to time) - African Cinema: Politics and Culture (Blacks in the Diaspora), and the second, African Film: New Forms of Aesthetics and Politics; both are available for sale on and other retailers.

John Akomfrah's past and recent works have been featured quite a bit on S&A, from his Afrofuturism doc The Last Angel of History, to his use of Homer's The Odyssey as a framework to explore mass migration to post-modern Britain in The Nine Muses.

Manthia Diawara And John Akomfrah
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More: John Akomfrah, Manthia Diawara

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  • M. | July 16, 2013 4:36 PMReply

    Man...I'm too excited about this. I've met and worked with Ms. Cleaver on several occasions and she is spectacular! I'm going to ask her about this the next time she comes by.

  • urbanauteur | July 16, 2013 4:08 PMReply

    Her along with Assaka Shakur, Jane Cortez,Audre Lorde & Ella Mae Baker NEED their own dame movie!!

  • Andre Seewood | July 12, 2013 2:44 PMReply

    This is exciting news! I hope that they include a detailed segment on her presence and performance in the opening scenes of Italian director Micheangelo Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT (1970). Kathleen Cleaver was unforgettable as she argued for a student takeover of the University during a protest planning session that opens the film. Antonioni captured her passion and her intelligence beautifully in this underrated and much maligned masterwork.

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