New Notes on Blackness

New Notes on Blackness


Hear storytellers such as muralist Aramis Hamer (still from “UNCODE”).

“UNCODE” unspools at the New Parkway on May 16.

Moviegoers have been treated to a range of fresh takes on the African-American experience in the last several months. From the down-low protagonist of Oscar winner Moonlight to the stubborn, frustrated father in Fences, from the middle-class brainiacs in the box office hit Hidden Figures to the everyday big-city Joe trapped in the exurban nightmare of Get Out, black characters struggle to stake their claim to the American dream. In every case, though, they defy and demolish the stereotypes that still pervade nightly newscasts and cable-news panels.

Ali Graham, the creator and executive producer of the new, national, short film series UNCODE, has a lower-key, longer-term strategy for promulgating life-affirming portraits of African-Americans on the job and in the world. Graham describes UNCODE, unspooling May 16 at the New Parkway as this month’s Reel Black Films show, as “a collection of short documentary-style films related to lifestyle topics as seen through the distinctive lens of black storytellers.” To our ear, “documentary style” invokes glossy, fast-paced, magazine-type pieces while “lifestyle topics” suggests black entrepreneurs and artists. There’s something undeniably appealing about upbeat profiles and travelogues as an alternative to earnest social-issue exposés, though UNCODE doesn’t aspire to offer escapism so much as a variety of experiences, points of view and modes of storytelling. A former Amazon exec, Graham sees streaming and social-media platforms as the best way to reach black viewers and black filmmakers. He’s not just building an audience; he’s building a collective. Get in on the ground floor.

UNCODE, Reel Black Films, 7:30 p.m., May 16, New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St., Oakland, 510-658-7900,


This report appears in the May edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.


Published online on May 9, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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