BFI Southbank returns with a bang by launching a brand-new season ‘Her Voice: Black Women from The Spotlight To The Screen’, a celebration of the most iconic Black female singers who transitioned to screen.
As soon as outside is officially open, from 17 May – 30 June, all roads lead to the highly anticipated Her Voice event, BFI Southbank’s new film season celebrating some of the best musical artistes who adapted their talents to film. The season will include music documentaries, biopics and feature films with performances from stars including Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé and many more.
Her Voice will celebrate the rich legacy from iconic performers who not only used their talents to entertain and comment, but also to enrich and transform the entertainment industry and those around them. The success of today’s Black musical superstars is because of those who have come before and paved the way. At Melan, we use every opportunity to celebrate our pioneers and so we are thrilled to partner with BFI Southbank to showcase the packed programme of events for Her Voice: Black Women from The Spotlight To The Screen.
What to watch …
Musicals and Dramas
Fans of Josephine Baker, the first Black woman to star in a feature film, can watch her portrayal of Papitou in Siren Of The Tropics (1927), a silent French film which will screen with live piano accompaniment. The film centres on the story of a woman who falls in love with a prospector and leaves her home in the Antilles for Paris, where she’s transformed into a stunning music-hall beauty.
Fast forward to a couple of decades later, why not buy a ticket to see the phenomenal Lena Horne as she leads the cast of 1940s musical Stormy Weather (1942); set in Harlem, this familiar story of love lost and found captures the vitality of a Black community. It also showcases the range and diversity of some of the best A-list Black entertainers of the time, including Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Katherine Dunham, Fats Waller and the Nicholas Brothers.
Who would give up the opportunity to re-watch Diana Ross as Dorothy in The Wiz (1978), the classic, musical fantasy based on L. Frank Baum’s classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Ross plays Dorothy, a shy teacher from Harlem who is transported to Oz, which bears a resemblance to New York City.
Don’t miss the chance to see the late, great Whitney Houston in what was to be her final screen role in Sparkle (2012). Houston gives a poignant performance as a Harlem-based single mother whose music career has failed, prompting her to seek solace in the church.
Biopics, Documentaries and Concert Films
Angela Bassett earned herself an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993), a warts-and-all biopic depicting her trials and tribulations as a Black woman pursuing success in the music industry.
Check out another Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls (2006). Based on the hit Broadway musical, which earned Jennifer Hudson a slew of awards including a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Effie White. This film about Black female ambition and heartbreak, also stars Beyoncé and Anika Noni Rose, and was loosely based on the rise of Motown and The Supremes.
Further screenings will shine a light on notable Black women whose talent changed music and perceptions about Black stardom, demanding respect for themselves and others.
A spectacular live concert film covering the recording of Aretha Franklin’s Grammy-winning album Amazing Grace is showcased in the production of the same name (2018).
The fascinating, sad and revealing documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me (2017), uses previously unseen material and archive footage to weave a portrait an the iconic artist who, on the surface, seemed to have it all.
The remarkable life of gospel music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family group The Staple Singers is captured on film for the first time in Mavis! (2015). This documentary features powerful live performances, rare archive footage and conversations with friends and contemporaries including Bob Dylan and Prince.
The life and talent of American Jazz legend Billie Holiday is explored in Billie (2019). Featuring never-before-heard taped interviews with those who knew her best, Billie celebrates a powerful performer and advocate.
Ella Fitzgerald: Just One Of Those Things (2019) explores Ella Fitzgerald’s career, charting her graduation from big-band singer to one of the most refined and sophisticated interpreters of the Great American Songbook.
A behind-the-scenes look at the experience and breath-taking talent of backup singers is told in all its glory and diversity in Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013); as well as interviews with those they’ve performed with, such as Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger, this Oscar-winning doc gives these incredible women a chance to speak about themselves and their dreams for the first time.
The life and talent of legendary vocalist Betty Carter is documented in …But Then, She’s Betty Carter (1980), capturing her musical genius and fierce dedication to personal and artistic independence. Screening alongside this will be Gotta Make This Journey: Sweet Honey In The Rock (1983), a vibrant and engaging film that profiles the acapella activist group, Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Her Voice: Black Women From the Spotlight to the Screen is at BFI Southbank from 17 May – 30 June.