Black History Month
CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH THROUGH FILM
in honor of Paramount projectionist Walter Norris
Edgar Walter Norris, Jr. (1940 – 2000) was the Paramount’s projectionist and stagehand for 30 years. In the late 1960s – only a few years after Austin movie theaters were desegregated – Walter became one of the first Black projectionists in the city, joining the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local Union 205. He would eventually represent the union as its president for several years.
In celebration of Black History Month and in honor of Walter, we will be featuring Black film history tied to the Paramount throughout February.
In addition, the amazing team at Six Square, preservers of African American cultural legacy and community in Central East Austin, will curate our upcoming marquees.
MORE ON WALTER
JOIN US: WHEN I RISE STREAMING DOCUMENTARY
PAST EVENTS AND PREMIERES
SIX SQUARE MARQUEES
More on Walter Norris
Walter started as the projectionist when the Paramount was still a first-run theatre and introduced generations of Austinites to classic films when the Summer Classic Film Series became an annual tradition. Often visiting with patrons in the lobby before films, he made many friends throughout his three decades at the theatre.
Former Paramount projectionist John Stewart (Walter’s successor) remembers his friend as beloved with a good sense of humor: “He was a treat to be around. Everyone loved him.”
Walter passed away on May 26, 2000 in the Paramount’s projection booth while screening CASABLANCA. His memorial service was held at the theatre four days later with members of the IATSE Union 205 serving as honorary pallbearers. The Austin American-Statesman featured a tribute to Walter front and center of the “Metro & State” section of the newspaper that included a smiling picture of him above an image of the Paramount’s marquee for his memorial.
In honor of Walter’s memory, his union hat and stagehand gloves hang next to a picture above the door in the projection booth. A floral arrangement from his memorial service also hangs on the wall backstage that can be seen directly across from the window of the projection booth.
It is incredible that Walter spent over half his life sharing his love for the movies at the Paramount, bringing joy to countless patrons. He is a major part of Paramount history, Austin film history, and the Texas film community.
WHEN I RISE: Free Virtual Screening
With Filmmaker + Special Guests Q&A
Thu, 2/25 | 10am
Available On-Demand 3/1
Join us for a free virtual screening of WHEN I RISE this Thurs, Feb 25 at 10am CST. This powerful documentary premiered at the Paramount Theatre during SXSW 2010 and is an Austin-based civil rights story that focuses on internationally celebrated mezzo-soprano Barbara Smith Conrad. Barbara became a lightning rod for racist backlash from members of the Texas legislature when she was cast in an opera to co-star with a white male classmate at the University of Texas in 1957.
Our Thursday screening will be followed by a panel Q&A with artists and educators connected to the film!
LEARN MORE AND REGISTER
In partnership with:
From Paramount Film Programmer Stephen Jannise:
“It is often said that a child can’t dream about a certain career if they don’t see people like them succeeding in it. Throughout film history, there have been woefully few Black filmmakers who were truly empowered to succeed and serve as encouragement for kids who aspire to do the same. But those who were able to overcome the considerable odds stacked against them to tell their stories onscreen have inspired the latest generation of Black filmmakers, who are being given opportunities that match their ambitions and have enabled them to lead a new wave of cinematic storytelling.
“To illustrate the power of inspiration, Time recently published an article featuring great Black directors recommending the films that sparked their imaginations and, in the words of Gina Prince-Bythewood, ‘give you the confidence that you can do it too.’ In celebration of Black History Month, we wanted to recommend a few films and then share the recommendations provided by the directors of those films.”
Director: Garrett Bradley
In the late 1990s, Fox Rich and her husband Rob, in a moment of desperation, attempt a bank robbery and are arrested, with no money stolen and no one harmed. Fox is sentenced to 19 years and is released after three, but Rob, in yet another example of the punishment not fitting a crime for a Black family, is sentenced to 65 years with seemingly no opportunity for parole. As soon as she is released, Fox begins to take a series of home videos, documenting her fight to get Rob released and recording their young children as they grow up. 18 years later, director Garrett Bradley was given the opportunity to take 18 years of Fox’s home videos and turn them into this emotionally devastating documentary portrait of the impact of time. We see Fox, initially hopeful for Rob’s release in the early videos, slowly lose the positivity in her voice (but never the determination to fight) as the years wear on. And we see her children growing into intelligent, socially conscious young adults who never lose hope that they’ll be reunited with their father. Thanks to Bradley’s work in this film (which made her the first Black woman to win the Sundance directing award for documentaries), you’ll be enraged by the unjust bureaucracy of our justice system and moved by the immovable power of love.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One
Director: William Greaves
HBO MAX, Criterion Channel
(recommended by Garrett Bradley)
From the Time article: “William Greaves’ 1968 documentary-turned-narrative feature is as much about the process of making a movie as it is about the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. “It’s really an experiment, and as a filmmaker, he’s illuminating the filmmaking process,” says director Garrett Bradley. “In a way, that really shows how the artistic process cannot be disconnected from the political and social complexities when you’re on set.””
Love and Basketball
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
HBO MAX, Hulu
We screened this iconic romance on its 20th anniversary last year at the Paramount, but if you weren’t able to make it, now is the perfect time to watch it. Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps star as two talented and ambitious young basketball players who also happen to be childhood sweethearts. As they make their way through high school, college and (hopefully) to the pros, the question becomes how far can each of them go? And what will happen to their relationship if one of them doesn’t make it? Lathan and Epps share electric chemistry in this film, which is a credit to Prince-Bythewood’s stated goal of making a “Black When Harry Met Sally.” Having also been inspired by Spike Lee’s romantic comedy She’s Gotta Have It, Prince-Bythewood was thrilled to have Lee join the film as executive producer, giving it the push it needed to get made and launching the career of another great Black filmmaker.
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Amazon Prime, Hulu
(recommended by Gina Prince-Bythewood and Nia DaCosta)
From the Time article: “Kasi Lemmons’ 1997 directorial debut tells the story of a young girl who is privy to dark family secrets in a small Louisiana town. Prince-Bythewood pointed to Lemmons as an influence for her as a young filmmaker. “Eve’s Bayou just changed the game for me, it was so well-made. It just struck me so emotionally, and I saw that we could make films at this level, this woman did it,” Prince-Bythewood says. “I met [Lemmons] right before I was going to start Love and Basketball and she was so incredibly encouraging and warm and graceful, just made me feel like ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ She absolutely influenced my career.” “I loved the magical realism of that film,” says director Nia DaCosta. “The way Kasi created a world that was deeply emotionally true but also magical and dark and eerie at the same time—I thought that was really awesome.””
John Lewis: Good Trouble
Director: Dawn Porter
John Lewis was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. As president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was the youngest leader to give a speech at the 1963 March on Washington. He led one of the protest marches from Selma to Montgomery, a nonviolent act turned brutally violent by the troopers waiting for them on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. And he served 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming one of our nation’s most respected politicians. While fighting for civil rights, Lewis said it was important to engage in “good trouble” to achieve change. Decades later, when Barack Obama was elected our first Black president, Obama signed a photo for Lewis and wrote, “Because of you, John.” Assembling nearly six decades worth of footage and interviews, director Dawn Porter has given us a masterful chronicle of this extraordinary life. Originally scheduled to debut at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival that was canceled due to COVID-19, Porter’s film instead premiered at the Circle Cinema in Tulsa on June 19, 2020 to commemorate Juneteenth. It was then released on July 3, 14 days before Lewis passed away at the age of 80.
I Am Not Your Negro
Director: Raoul Peck
Amazon Prime, Hulu
(recommended by Dawn Porter)
From the Time article: “It’s exhilarating to feel like people are out here being creative and innovative,” Porter says of Raoul Peck’s acclaimed documentary about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro. The film uses archival footage to illustrate a narration inspired by Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House. “It just pushes you to challenge yourself, to take on different topics. I’m always reminded of the importance of the gaze,” she says. “It just reaches and grabs your soul. It’s so unflinching and creative. Just exhilarating. So often, Black filmmakers have been marginalized. To see these really bold, powerful, uncompromising works is exhilarating.”
Past Events & Premieres
We’re throwing it back to remember some incredible events and premieres hosted at the Paramount & Stateside Theatres that spotlighted Black artists who composed soundtracks, created stories, brought characters to life, and inspired films that lit up our movie palace screen.
In 1978, BIG TIME premiered at the Paramount. The film’s premiere served as a fundraiser for the Afro-American Players, a former local group of artists whose mission was to bring the Black experience into the theatrical community.
The premiere was a homecoming for the film’s star, Austin native Christopher Joyner, and marked musician Smokey Robinson’s first visit to the theatre. Robinson, who provided the film’s soundtrack, would return to the Paramount decades later for two performances, including our 2012 Anniversary Gala.
20 Feet From Stardom
Singer Darlene Love attended the premiere of 20 FEET FROM STARDOM during the 2013 SXSW Film Festival. Love’s and other background singers’ careers were documented in the film, giving their talents and stories the long overdue spotlight. Love awed the audience after the film with her powerful performance of “Lean on Me.” Three years later, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame star returned to the Paramount for an unforgettable holiday show.
The Texas Program in Sports and Media (TPSM) hosted the Texas premiere of 42, a biographical film about civil rights trailblazer and Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The event included a Q&A post-film with Robinson’s daughter Sharon Robinson and Branch B. Rickey III, the grandson of the Brooklyn Dodgers President who signed Robinson to the team.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
In 2016, Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA hosted two sold out screenings of the 1978 film THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN at the State. The rapper, producer and actor provided a live score of music from Wu-Tang’s catalogue inspired by the film.
The Paramount hosted the world premiere of award-winning director, screenwriter and actor Jordan Peele’s US during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. As Peele took the stage for a post-film Q&A, he reminded the audience that he also premiered his 2016 film KEANU at the theatre.
Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o made two appearances for film premieres at the Paramount during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. She first joined Jordan Peele and the cast of US on stage for a Q&A after the screening and walked the red carpet again days later for the premiere of LITTLE MONSTERS.
Six Square Marquees
Local nonprofit Six Square is our guest marquee curator for Black History Month. Winter storm Uri delayed our launch but look out for special messages from the Six Square team over the next two weeks.
About Six Square: Six Square celebrates and preserves the great arts, culture and history of Central East Austin. Named for the six square miles of the former “negro” district, Six Square is a visionary leader and powerful partner for major projects that preserve, promote, and sustain Black arts, history and culture. We are the only state-designated Black cultural district in Texas.
“Black Disaster Relief Fund” Marquee: Six Square along with the Black Leaders Collective is assisting with emergency aid that will last long past the snow melting. Meals, supplies, water as well as volunteers are needed for distribution at the former Sims Elementary, which is running through Wed, February 24 at 6pm.
You can support this coordinated effort to provide critical emergency aid to community members impacted by recent winter storms with a timely donation. Six Square and Black Leaders Collective are also advocating for changes to policy and government systems to lessen the severity of these types of events in the future.
“Until Justice” Marquee: Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us that we cannot be satisfied “until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Though this country has made significant progress since Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, we are still grappling with the modern-day effects of four centuries of slavery. Six Square—Austin’s Black Cultural District knows that it truly takes a village to do impactful and long-lasting anti-racism work.
“1/01 to 12/31” Marquee: A message from Six Square: “As Black History Month ends, we call on everyone to celebrate Black history, culture, and people not just during February but year round. Even though Black History Month is over, the work continues. Join Six Square—Austin’s Black Cultural District—in preserving and celebrating the cultural legacy of the Black community that once thrived in Central East Austin. Find out more about our mission and donate through sixsquare.org.”