Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

From LA's historic black cinema to fostering art in Leimert Park

by A Martínez and Dorian Merina | Take Two®

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Ben Caldwell, a key figure in the L.A. Rebellion black cinema movement in the 1970s, at the KAOS Network studio in Leimert Park. He stands before photographs he took during that era. Dorian Merina/KPCC

The all-white field of acting nominees at the Oscars has prompted a range of reaction, from demands for a boycott to pressure to change the make up of Academy voters to be more inclusive.

It's also added to calls for more programs to develop and support artists of color.

But decades ago, L.A. was already home to one of the most ambitious programs to do just that. The program at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television came in the wake of the 1965 Watts Riots and amid the tumultuous civil rights era. It was a deliberate effort to expand access to cinematic tools and training for African Americans and other communities that had traditionally been excluded from movie-making.

It led to what's known as the L.A. Rebellion and fostered some of the most innovative filmmakers in black cinema at the time.


The trailer for Charles Burnett's classic Killer of Sheep, restored in 2007 for a theatrical release. Burnett was a key figure in the LA Rebellion movement.

"We would discuss it over coffee every night and watch multiple films because UCLA really immersed us in filmmaking," said Ben Caldwell, one of the filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion, who now runs a media training group called the KAOS Network in L.A.'s Leimert Park, a hub of the city's historic African American art and culture.

Caldwell's transition to educator of other young filmmakers was about filling a void in Hollywood at the time and fostering new ways of artistic expression.

"When I was a student at UCLA, we took those imperial tools that the school had and brought it into this community so we could start training people to tell stories about us," said Caldwell.

For Caldwell, and others in the L.A. Rebellion, the lessons from that era are worth paying attention to today, as Hollywood continues to struggle with a lack of diversity. The era also produced accomplished female filmmakers, such as Carroll Parrott Blue, Barbara McCullough and Alile Sharon Larkin.

"I think our movement ended up showing that it was like a Blue Note," said Caldwell, comparing his generation's output to the legendary jazz label.  "If you create real good, quality work, it lives forever."

RELATED: Selma, Lord, Selma; Charles Burnett tells the story of Selma through a child's eyes

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