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Barbadian-born director Menelik Shabazz passes away


Barbadian-born director Menelik Shabazz passes away
Menelik Shabazz (GP)

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Menelik Shabazz, the Barbadian-born director and writer who forged a path for black film-makers in the United Kingdom (UK), has died.

A message from family members, which was posted on Shabazz’s Facebook Page today, announced his death.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved father, brother, partner and uncle Menelik Shabazz, age 67. Menelik was a passionate film maker and forged the way for many black film makers. We thank you all very much for your messages of condolence. We have been touched by the tributes from those that knew him, worked with him, and were inspired by his work,” the statement said.

The Guardian said the news was also confirmed by Shabazz’s daughter Nadia Denton, who said that the director died in Zimbabwe on Monday of complications related to diabetes.

Shabazz was working on a new project, The Spirits Return, his first full-length fiction feature since his 1981 debut, Burning an Illusion.

Born in St John in 1954, Shabazz emigrated to the UK as a five-year-old, becoming interested in film-making as a teenager after discovering early portable video technology. After briefly studying at the London International Film School, Shabazz made his first short in 1977: Step Forward Youth, which was funded by the uncle of his film-making partner David Kinoshi.

The Guardian listed some of Shabzz’s work such as Blood Ah Go Run, a hard-hitting short documentary about the Black People’s Day of Action march protesting about the New Cross fire, in which 13 young people died.

He also co-founded the “Ceddo Film and Video Workshop in 1982, a collective supported by Channel 4 and the BFI; this was part of a movement that included the Black Audio Film Collective and Sankofa Film and Video Collective”, according to The Guardian.

“For Ceddo, Shabazz directed the 88-minute TV documentary Time and Judgment, a blend of science fiction, poetry and religion, which Shabazz called ‘the most radical film about the black experience ever shown on British TV’.

“In 1996, Shabazz was commissioned by the BBC to make a drama documentary for the Hidden Empire series, about Jamaican preacher Paul Bogle, who was executed by British colonial authorities in 1865 after leading the Morant Bay rebellion.”

After a break, Shabazz returned to film-making in 2011 with the reggae documentary The Story of Lover’s Rock.

He told The Guardian: “The media focus has often been on our parents’ generation, the Windrush generation, but my generation, the ‘rebel generation’, who came in the ’60s and those who were born here in the ’70s, we have been very influential to mainstream British culture.”

Additionally John King, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for Culture, in a message posted on his Facebook page, paid a tribute to Shabazz: “I am saddened to learn of the passing of Barbadian-born filmmaker Menelik Shabazz.

“Menelik Shabazz, who was born in St John, rose to international prominence for his 1982 feature-length Burning An Illusion.

“In 2016, after a long-standing career of international success, he made an admirable effort to provide an opportunity for several Barbadians in the pilot of Heat, a television drama series featuring local talent Patrick Foster, Alison Hinds, Kirk Brown, and Andrew Pilgrim.

“As a screenwriter and director, Menelik’s ability to create a story from script development to filming was unmatched, leading him to garner praise for productions such as Time and Judgement, Catch A Fire, Looking For Love, and The Story of Lover’s Rock.

“Unashamed to allow those around the world to know of his lineage, he never forgot his humble beginnings in Barbados and utilised every opportunity to promote our country on the big screens of the world.

“Therefore, without a doubt, Barbados has lost a gem and a shining star in the world’s constellation.

“On behalf of the Government of Barbados, I express my deepest condolences to the family, friends, and fans of Menelik Shabazz.”