This week we lost a giant of this generation who shaped Black British film and culture.
Menelik Shabazz was born in Barbados in 1954 and came to the UK at the age of six. In 1974 he enrolled at what was known then, the London International Film School, two years before the first film by a Black British director Pressure was released.
Shabazz however is probably best known for his first feature-length film Burning an Illusion about a Black British woman in London, again focusing on the first generation of Black British people born in the UK. The film won the Grand Prix at the Amiens International Film Festival in France, and in 2011 it was honoured with a Screen Nation Classic Film Award.
After making Burning An Illusion, Shabazz co-founded the Ceddo Film Video Workshop in 1982 with a vision to empower Black film production, training, and film screenings. Funded by UK broadcaster Channel 4 and the British Film Institute, Ceddo created film production and community training initiatives and hosted a number of screenings with filmmakers including Spike Lee.
Shabazz published Black Filmmaker magazine in 1998 with “the intention to pass on information to the next generation about the film industry”, and founded the BFM International Film Festival in 1999 which operated until 2011. In 2007, Shabazz went to Nigeria to produce film projects in Nollywood, reigniting his passion for filmmaking. The following year, he began work on the feature documentary The Story Of Lover’s Rock, about reggae in the UK, which was released in 2011 and tells the story of how Lovers Rock music defined a generation in the late ’70s and ’80s, hugely impacting British Pop Culture.
More recently, he directed the documentary Looking For Love, which explored relationships between Black couples in the UK.
Menelik Shabbaz was a pioneer who saw the importance of shaping and capturing the narratives of the contemporary Black British experience.