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Northwest Film Forum's weekend-long celebration of Black punks

A black and white sketch of people in front of a brick building with the words "Black Punk Weekend" on top and the dates "March 29-31" below.
James Spooner
Northwest Film Forum
James Spooner published his first graphic novel, the memoir, "The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere" in 2022.

The Northwest Film Forum is kicking off its celebration of Black punks with a screening of the documentary “Afro-Punk."

In his 2003 documentary, filmmaker James Spooner spoke with nearly 100 Black Punks across the country. The film focused on the people rather than the history. Spooner asked subjects about things like interracial dating, the feeling of seeing another Black person at a punk show, and the isolating feeling of being the only one.

Twenty years later, Spooner said he’s watched the Black punk scene change.

"They're taking up space, in a way that my generation, I feel like...we didn't want to make our white friends uncomfortable so we didn't really talk about race," Spooner said.

Spooner said it’s an exciting shift. This is reflected by how easily he and the Forum’s artistic director were able to find two queer Black-led musical acts to be a part of the festival. Seattle-based band Black Ends and Oakland-based musician Brontez Purnell will perform after the screening of "Afro-Punk."

Jill Busby became the Forum’s artistic director last August. “Black Punk Weekend” is her first big event in that role. She met Spooner last year when he was in town for a book event. The two hit it off. When she joined the Forum, Spooner reached out to see if they could collaborate on something. Busby was all in.

"What felt most important was allowing some creative freedom, because I know from being in this industry that usually no one says to you, 'What do you want to do? We'll do that,'" Busby said.

When it comes to programming for the Film Forum, as a Black woman, Busby said she wants to highlight Black voices and stories. She feels the Forum has given her a lot of creative freedom to do that, but she also noted it’s equally important that audiences show up.

"If you like this stuff and if you want this stuff and it represents you, and it feels important, then you know, it is activism, even to attend so that people know that we're here and we want it," Busby said.

Over the Black Punk Weekend, there will be other films about Black punks, a punk show, and a brunch where they’ll honor singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson. Busby said they’re open to making it an annual event.

You can find more information about Black Punk Weekend on the Northwest Film Forum website.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Grace Madigan covers arts and culture with a focus on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.