WHAT it is…

A film movement that developed in Los Angeles, California, during the Sixties and until the early Eighties in which a group of African-American filmmakers — almost all of them graduates from the University of California — produced films that sought to stay true to the African-American experience and serve as a corrective to the stereotypical, racist representation of blacks in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

WHO its pioneers were...

The L.A. Rebellion took shape during the years following the Watts uprising, the Civil Rights Movement and the wide scale outcry against the Vietnam War. These events, coupled with the influence of realist film movements from Europe, helped students and teachers at the UCLA, such as Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, Billy Woodberry and Julie Dash, establish a school of cinema founded on the African-American identity.

How it is characterised…

Objectives

While the representation of African-Americans in popular Hollywood cinema tended to fall into a few stereotypes that were condescending, mocking or downright offensive, the films of this movement attempted to portray black characters in all their richness. These films centred on the drama of everyday life, on the commonplaceness of crime and the social nature of it, on systematic oppression and casual aggression. These works sought authenticity of representation, of lived experience.

Style

The films of the L.A. Rebellion were often made on shoestring budgets and the style of the film showed this. Shot usually on 16mm, they were almost always shot on location with non-professionals for actors. A predominantly jazzy soundtrack — also a staple of African-American culture — and long documentary passages characterise these films, as do the Cinema Vérité and Neorealism-influenced visual style.

WHY it is important...

The films of the L.A. Rebellion are significant, among other perspectives, from a historical standpoint because it was the one of the first film movements that instituted itself on a racial identity. Today, with the popularity of identity politics and gated communities and the fall of grand political ideologies, films expressing solidarity with the struggles of a particular community — identified by ethnicity or otherwise — have much to draw from the avenues opened up by the L.A. Rebellion.

WHERE to find it...

Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep (1977) is constructed as a series of slice-of-life vignettes in which we witness Stan, a worker at the city's slaughterhouses, and his family eke out a modest existence, take pleasure in the smallest joys and hold their dignity amidst a distressing social and economic climate.