Black Cinema – John Evans

BadAzz MoFo celebrates Black History Month 2012 by focusing on Black Cinema—a look at the films, filmmakers, and actors that have contributed to the black diaspora in film.

Despite the number of books, documentaries, and websites dedicated to film, the history of cinema is poorly recorded at best. This is especially true of black cinema, which by and large has always existed in a marginalized place. Films and filmmakers have been forgotten over time, as if they never existed, with only a few traces of their existence to prove their contribution to film. Don’t get me wrong, some of these films are terrible, and some of these filmmakers display no discernible traces of talent. But does that warrant exclusion from the record of history?

In my attempt to chronicle the history of black cinema, time and time again I have stumbled across these forgotten films and these filmmakers whose names are remember by only a scarce few. And these are the films and director that obsess me the most, not because they were good—because most were definitely not—but simply because they existed. They did it. And for better or worse, that’s more than most people ever do.

One of the directors I have long been obsessed with is John Evans. If there is any chance of anyone knowing who he is, it is through his contributions to blaxploitation, Speeding Up Time, The Black Godfather (which I refer to as The Black Godawful), and the laughable casino-heist flick Blackjack. Make no mistake, John Evans did not make good films. Speeding Up Time exists in the annals of blaxploitation as one of the top ten worst films of the genre, and The Black Godfather isn’t much better. Blackjack, while being a special kind of bad, is easily best of Evan’s better known movies, which is to say it is the film that can be watched without engaging the fast-forward button. But despite the fact that Evans made terrible films, I can’t help but respect the fact that he made them, and wonder about his story. All I know is that Evans also made the documentary Huey P. Newton: Prelude to Revolution, which is seldom associated with the director, and is actually the best film he ever made. To be honest, I don’t know much more about Evans, although I know he also made the short documentary What Do You People Want? , which is also about Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. My guess is that his documentary work on the Panthers led him to make Speeding Up Time, a film that is heartbreaking in how bad it is, especially given that it is trying so earnestly. Few films have ever failed so miserably, and Speeding Up Timeactually has the effect of slow time down.

It would be inaccurate to call John Evans a good filmmaker. But like I said, he was a filmmaker, and as such he contributed to the medium that means so much to me, and especially to the genre that is near and dear to my heart. And for those reasons alone, he deserves to be remembered.

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