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AFI Cine Club: POSSE | American Film Institute

DETACHMENTMario Van Peebles’ vibrant tribute to African-American heroes of the Wild West, will be screened October 16-22 at AFI FEST presented by Audi as part of the festival Film Legacy Program. This year’s program, curated by Dr. Racquel Gates, associate professor of film and media studies at the College of Staten Island, CUNY and author of “Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture,” reframes and restores black histories as an integral part of the history of American cinema. GET A TICKET

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Movie Trivia on TODAY’S MOVIE

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE is based on the true story of African-American settlers in the West who fought for the constitutional rights to own land and vote. Although approximately 8,000 black cowboys inhabited the western frontier, their stories had generally been excluded from mainstream cultural vernacular until POSSE hit the big screen.

DID YOU KNOW? Most actual black townships in the west were destroyed due to the “grandfather clause”, which prohibited African Americans from voting if their grandfathers were slaves. Colored settlers were intimidated and lynched to prevent their full emancipation as citizens of the United States.

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE was loosely based on co-writer Sy Richardson’s grandfather, an evangelical Southern Baptist minister who traveled to black communities in the late 19th century. POSSE marked Richardson’s feature debut as a writer, but he also worked as an actor in films such as REPO MAN and WALKER.

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE was filmed in Tucson, Arizona on a $10 million budget. Filming began 28 years ago this month in October 1992.

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE was the first feature film released by Polygram Entertainment’s distribution company, Gramercy Pictures, which was eventually renamed Focus Features.

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE marked Mario Van Peebles’ second feature film as a director, following NEW JACK CITY. He was previously known for his acting work and also starred in both films. His father, Melvin Van Peebles, was a prolific and groundbreaking actor, screenwriter and director.

DID YOU KNOW? Despite critical acclaim, POSSE was not screened at the Cineplex Odeon in Universal City, California, reportedly because filming took place at the theater when BOYZ N THE HOOD was released. Director Mario Van Peebles challenged the restriction and noted that the fear of violence represented Hollywood’s widespread efforts to silence black filmmakers.

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The Movie Doesn’t End in the Credits: Family Discussion Questions

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-POSSE begins with the character of an old man played by black actor Woody Strode, who in his youth was one of the very few African American actors to perform in classic Hollywood westerns. Why do you think the filmmakers used this narrative framing device? Does it make the story more authentic?

-Although POSSE was not the first black western, it is dedicated to revising Hollywood’s exclusion of African American filmmakers and characters. Knowing that there were approximately 8,000 black settlers living in the west and an accurate historical account of this period would have included them, why do you think most Hollywood westerns have featured all-white cast and crew?

-When the gang arrives in the black township of Freemansville, they are recruited to help protect the townspeople from a nearby sheriff and fellow Ku Klux Klan, who covet the land for themselves. How does this mission change people?

-How does POSSE compare or contrast with traditional western tropes and conventions featuring white stories and protagonists?

-POSSE depicts sex and extreme violence as a vehicle of male power. Do you think the film portrays its few female characters well, or are they dehumanized and objectified to maintain male dominance? Do you think the violence was explicit with a purpose, or was it similar exploitation?

-How would you rate POSSE?

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