Ben Caldwell (PBS SoCal)

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on Monday, January 15, through two impactful films, “The March” (1964) and “The Bus” (1965), showcasing the 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom. The tribute is entitled “Documenting a Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Civil Rights” and reflects on King’s enduring influence on the Civil Rights Movement.

A panel discussion featuring Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker Ben Caldwell will follow the screening. Caldwell contributed to the L.A. Rebellion Movement — a group of Black UCLA film school graduates who came of age in the late 1960s to the late 1970s in the so-called Blaxploitation era. Their defining aesthetic was moving beyond the stereotypical portrayals of Black people and creating a new cinema that provided an alternative to classical Hollywood cinema.

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The L.A. Sentinel sat down with Caldwell to discuss the importance of speaking truth to power through the documentation of political movements.

L.A. Sentinel: Why document political movements?

Ben Caldwell: We have to document human movements because they encompass movements both political and religious, and all the various nuances of a culture. Even built within our language is a whole colonized methodology that is called “Black Jim Crow-ish” that we’ve always tried to break out of with the coming up of new words. Words are powerful and I think we have to watch how we are melding into the future with our language.

LAS: You contributed to the L.A. Rebellion movement of Black filmmakers of the ‘60s and 70s.

BC: It grew out of the frustration of trying to get a job in Hollywood. A group of us [UCLA students] got together to tell the stories of our community and the world wasn’t ready for them at that time. But we had the tools, and we did it without Hollywood’s help. We did it with [help from] our university and our template of youth working together.

We fell into Los Angeles at a time when art forms were melded together. We set up a system of working with the community, with the concept of proper utilization of resources, like cameras, the school, and community organizations that would help us with our work.

A scene from “The Bus,” released in 1965. (UCLA Film & Television Archive)

LAS: The movie “Penitentiary” by UCLA film school graduate Jamaa Fanaka was the highest grossing film of 1979.

BC: That was a fun movie! I helped him make it with the proper utilization of resources. They let us use the boxing ring of the [former] Lincoln Heights jail and we didn’t have to pay for it. It was a prison movie where they made inmates fight each other. [Fanaka] got Hollywood money to get that film done.

LAS: The Academy Museum screens “The March” and “The Bus” on Monday night, Jan. 15, as a tribute to the legacy of Dr. King.

BC: King’s statements about international movements should be looked at as family fights about borders. I think people will look within themselves and see where the borders exist. King was good at using powerful words to emancipate you to take the next step. Listen to his words and let’s talk about our future so we won’t replicate the problems of the past. It’s the Sankofa way of looking into our lives.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, 6067 Wilshire Boulevard, is located in the historic May Company Building at Fairfax Avenue, part of Museum Row on the Miracle Mile.

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Academy Museum (Josh White/Academy Museum Foundation)