Michelle Materre, champion of black independent film, dies at 67

Michelle Materre, a distributor and educator who promoted the voice of black women in film and released influential independent films from black creators, died March 11 in White Plains, NY. She was 67.

A friend, Kathryn Bowser, said the cause was oral cancer.

Ms. Materre was an early proponent of independent works by black female directors, at a time when diversity in independent cinema was far from at the forefront of cultural conversation.

His company, KJM3 Entertainment Group, was working on distributing major movies; one of his first projects was the commercialization of “Daughters of the Dust” by Julie Dash. Widely considered a masterpiece of black independent cinema and reportedly the first feature film by a black woman to achieve wide release, “Daughters of the Dust” has been inducted into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. in 2004.

New York Times critic AO Scott wrote in 2020 that “Daughters of the Dust,” which tells the story of Gullah women off the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia in the early 20th century, “has sent ripples of influence across culture,” inspiring imagery from Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” visual album and director Sofia Coppola’s aesthetic. “Selma” director Ava DuVernay also regularly quotes the film as an influence.

Ms. Dash, in a memento for the International Documentary Association, wrote: “We remain eternally grateful to Michelle and the KJM3 team for the first series of ‘Daughters of the Dust’ in 1992; it wouldn’t have been a success without them.

KJM3 Entertainment was formed in 1992 and released 23 films before ceasing operations in 2001. Another of the company’s most influential distribution efforts was “L’Homme Sur Les Quais” (“The Man from the Shore” ) (1993), a drama by Raoul Peck, the Haitian author who later directed “I Am Not Your Negro”, the 2016 documentary about race in America based on the writings of James Baldwin.

Ms. Materre’s passion for bringing unsung masterpieces to a wider audience has fueled her career. In 1999, she launched Creatively Speaking, an effort to bundle short films by underrepresented filmmakers into comprehensive programs organized by theme. He has become a major cultural player, hosting regular screenings at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and educational panels on diversity in film at the New School and elsewhere.

“One Way or Another: Black Women’s Cinema, 1970-1991”, which compiled short films into a longer project, was an acclaimed Creatively Speaking project. In 2017, Richard Brody of The New Yorker called it the most important repertoire series of the year.

In a 2019 interview for The New School, Ms Materre said she started Creatively Speaking because she saw a lack of opportunity – a theme throughout her career.

“I found that there weren’t a lot of outlets for filmmakers of color and women filmmakers who hadn’t yet reached the possibility of making feature films,” she said. “They were making shorts – all these amazing shorts, but no one ever saw them.”

Once she started producing these films, she added, “people went to them like crazy.”

In the International Documentary Association’s tribute, Leslie Fields-Cruz, executive director of Black Public Media, wrote that Ms Materre “understood why black films need special attention when it comes to distribution and engagement. “.

“There are several generations of filmmakers, curators, distributors and media arts administrators,” she wrote, “whose lives and careers have been affected simply because Michelle took the time to listen and understand. worry about it”.

Michelle Angelina Materre was born on May 12, 1954 in Chicago. Her father, Oscar Materre, was a firefighter in Chicago and owned a painting business. His mother, Eloise (Michael) Materre, was a real estate agent.

She grew up in Chicago and attended the Chicago Latin School. She went on to earn a BS in Education from Boston State College and a Masters in Educational Media from Boston College.

In 1975, she married Jose Masso, a Boston public school teacher. They divorced in 1977. She married Dennis Burroughs, a production technician, in 1990; this marriage also ended in divorce. She is survived by her sisters, Paula and Judi Materre.

Ms. Materre’s work at Creatively Speaking was centered in New York; in addition to distributing films, she has often organized panels and screenings of little-seen works like “Charcoal” (2017), Haitian director Francesca Andre’s short film about colorism and skin lightening practices in the black community.

Ms. Materre has consulted for the production and distribution of numerous films and has served on the boards of the Black Documentary Collective, New York Women in Film and Television and other groups promoting underrepresented filmmakers.

In 2000, she began teaching at The New School in New York, where her classes focused on diversity and inclusion in the media.

In a reminiscence for The New School Free Press, Ms Materre’s colleague Terri Bowles, with whom she taught a course at The New School, wrote: “She exuded a love of media and film, immersing her students, her colleagues and friends in the vernacular languages. of the image, its multiple presentations and its critical importance.

About Monty S. Maynard

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