by Curtis Caesar John
Welcome to our new feature, Black on HULU!
Black on Hulu will focus on and examine cinema and television with stars, creators, and themes from the African diaspora that are currently available on the online and digital media player/set-top box streaming service Hulu and its pay service Hulu Plus. Some of these are new online portal titles, some are favorites that have been unavailable for some time, others are to some extent forgotten, while many have just never have been dissected.
Our first selection is a film that I fell in love with a few years ago when it was submitted and then exhibited at a film festival I used to run. The title alone is fascinating and entrancing, and the subject matter, point-of-view, narration, and deft direction make it extremely watchable even at certain points when the pacing slows.
The United States of Hoodoo (2012, 100 min.) is a road trip to the black roots of American culture. Its narrator and star is the author, performance artist, and free thinker Darius James, whose journey to explore how African based spirituality has influenced America´s popular culture includes frank, illuminating, and often funny interviews with peers and luminaries such as Ishmael Reed, Nick Cave, Val Jeanty, Shantrelle P. Lewis, Danny Simmons, Kanene Holder, David “Goat” Carson, Hassan Sekou Allen, Sallie Ann Glassman.
With a shake-up of the traditional and stereotypical ways of thinking about race, religion, and rationality, the spirit that James’ encounters take on totally imbue his character as can be instantly discovered from the tone of his books like the semi-autobiographical That’s Blaxploitation! Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tude (1995)and Negrophobia: An Urban Parable (1993), as well as his early work as on Penthouse magazine’s “Ask Dr. Snakeskin” column. But Hoodoo isn’t a documentary with a bunch of talking heads. This is indeed a road trip, and through meetings with musicians, writers and artists, miracle healers, gumbo cooks and Mississippi Blues men, the documentary explores a culture which has always drawn on a unique mix of different ethnic influences to produce its cultural diversity, allure, and vitality.
That said, director Oliver Hardt is a visionary himself as his documentary films and experimental video work have found national and international recognition having won and been nominated for numerous awards. Hardt’s documentary film Black Deutschland, an intimate study of the way a not-so-small minority in Germany thinks and feels, explores how images and counter-images, life-plans and their reflection in the media mutually condition one another and becomes a social reality in which age-old clichés and prejudices continue to exist quite independent of people’s good or bad intentions. It has been shown at numerous festivals in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and the USA, and also co-starred Darius James.
Hardt has also recently directed This Building Will Sing For All of Us, a 30 minute documentary that explores the British-Ghanaian star architect David Adjaye and his design for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.. The film focuses on the question of how Adjaye deals with the challenge of building one of the most important buildings in African American history. What role does “African” play in the idea of “African American?” And in what form are historical, social and aesthetic considerations manifested in his design for the museum?