I first met Menelik when he was running bfm magazine and international film festival with Charles Thompson. It must be around the time of the BFI Black World in 2005 when, on the back of the success of 100 Great Black Britons, I ran a similar campaign called 100 Black Screen icons which was sponsored by the BFI and BBC and featured black people in front of and behind the camera, reflecting the diaspora in the UK and internationally. The magazine featured the campaign and Menelik was on the list.
In 2008, I launched my documentary ‘A Charmed Life’ featuring the life of WW2 veteran Eddie Martin Noble and kick started my campaign for a national Windrush Day. The film was accepted as part of the bfm International Film Festival.
I got to know Menelik and learned about his politics and the importance of filmmaking in controlling the black narrative of our lived experience. His films ‘Burning an Illusion’ and ‘Blood A Go Run’ capture the Black British experience of racism in the 70s and 80s, which still resonates today.
We sat on various panels and events where we started to have regular dialogue over the last decade. He would contact me for advice and information around executing some of his ideas. At one stage we had various conversations about a film project he was considering making on black mental health.
During these conversation over the years there was a sense of frustration and bitterness around the lack of support for his films and raising money for future projects. His film ‘The Story of Lovers Rock’ was based on crowdfunding and independently distributed and still hasn’t received the recognition the recent Steve McQueen film covering the similar subject has.
The last contact I had with Menelik was late last year when I informed him that he was included in the 2020 ‘100 Great Black Britons’ campaign and the book, which acknowledges his contribution as a trailblazer.
Menelik has made a significant contribution to filmmaking and distribution. He has inspired two generations of Black British film producers and directors. I hope that a film scholarship is established in his name to provide support for future filmmakers.
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