With the news that Black British filmmaking legend Menelik Shabazz passed away on 28 June, we reflect on how his legacy lives on through his pioneering body of work.
In a statement, the family thanked well-wishers for all the tributes: “Menelik was a passionate film-maker and forged the way for many Black film-makers … We have been touched by the tributes from those that knew him, worked with him and were inspired by his work.”
Menelik Shabazz (30 May 1954 – 28 June 2021)
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved father, brother, partner and uncle Menelik Shabazz, a passionate film maker who forged the way for others. We have been touched by your tributes. Thank you all. pic.twitter.com/MBXPu0D9Ov
— Menelik Shabazz (@menelikshabazz) June 29, 2021
As we look back on his life here are seven facts about Menelik Shabazz and his work.
Many senior Black British media personalities credited him with highlighting authentic Black British narratives in his films when it was even less likely to happen than now. This particularly applies to first generation modern Black Britons who truly call the UK home.
Iconic British Black filmmaker Menelik Shabazz has taken his ancestral rise.
Thank you so very much for your important contribution to the Black narrative, Mr Shabazz. Many of us in this industry walked in your footsteps. pic.twitter.com/SdvYfV8h0c
— The British Blacklist (@BritBlacklist) June 29, 2021
His film debut Burning an Illusion was also only the second feature by a Black director to be made in the UK. It told the story of a Black woman in England who became increasingly frustrated with her life and lazy boyfriend. It was credited as being one of the first British films to give a voice to Black women.
Shabazz refused to be daunted by the repeated refusal by the film industry to back many of his projects. Instead, he set up Black Filmmaker Magazine in 1998, as a tool to furnish the next generation with information and a framework around the film industry. Shortly after, the BFM festival was set up, which operated from 1999-2011.
Shabazz moved to the UK when he was six years old. He was born in St. John – one of the easterly parishes of Barbados. But his link to the island was never truly broken. In 2016, he returned to dramatic storytelling – creating, directing and producing the pilot for Heat a TV drama series set in the land of his birth.
Devastated to hear about the death of Menelik Shabazz – a personal inspiration that directly led to my career in media, and a true pioneer in Black British film.
In honour I wrote a short obituary of why he was such an important figure. https://t.co/Jst4ycSINF pic.twitter.com/EVPg3Dhq4R
— Marcus Ryder MBE (@marcusryder) June 29, 2021
One of his earlier works – Blood Ah Go Run – was a hard-hitting short documentary about the Black People’s Day of Action march protesting about the New Cross fire, in which 13 young people died. This type of work was essential to the Black British experience at the time and was not reflected in mainstream film offerings.
In 2012, his feature length documentary The Story of Lover’s Rock won the Jury award for Best Documentary at the Trinidad International Film Festival. The Story of Lover’s Rock became one of the highest grossing documentaries in UK cinemas in 2011.
Shabazz passed away while shooting The Spirits Return production which started in April 2021. We hope to one day see the film that he once described as a project “hatched during lockdown in Zimbabwe … an ancestral love story about Nubia, a British woman who visits Zimbabwe searching for her cultural and ancestral roots”.
Rest in Power Menelik Shabazz: 30 May 1954 – 28 June 2021
Visit the Menelik Shabazz website to learn more about his work.