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Double Bill: Bill Gunn

MUBI Special

Bill Gunn—filmmaker, playwright, actor, and novelist—is a singular artist of undeniable ingenuity. Over time, his career has become synonymous with the whitewashing of Hollywood that denied, and continues to deny, filmmakers of color the chance to have their work properly funded and distributed. This double bill features two of Gunn’s three remarkable directorial efforts, as his first feature from 1970, Stop, was shelved by the studio and is yet to be released. Ganja & Hess, notably remade by Spike Lee as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus in 2014, is an expressive vampire thriller, challenging the blaxploitation genre by presenting a complex tale of addiction and Black high society. Personal Problems, in turn, is an experimental soap opera and antithesis to television from the era, a dazzling portrayal of daily Black life featuring an extraordinary performance by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor as a nurse aid. These two films are the masterpieces of a subversive artist working outside of the biases of white America, who leaves behind a momentous legacy in Black independent film.

Personal Problems

Bill Gunn United States, 1980

This self-proclaimed “experimental soap opera” is an antithesis to television, brilliantly formed by Bill Gunn and Ishmael Reed. Starring the outstanding Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, the film politicizes daily Black life not through oversimplified themes, but the moving power of private struggle.

Ganja & Hess

Bill Gunn United States, 1973

Kicking off our double feature of masterpieces by director Bill Gunn is an impossible-to-define mix of midnight horror, lyrical imagery, and heartfelt eloquence. A passionate act of provocation, Gunn challenged the blaxploitation genre with this complex tale of addiction and Black high society.

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