Courtesy Blacknuss Network

“Now we gathered here on the universe at this time this particular time / To listen to the 36 black notes of the piano / There’s 36 black notes and 52 white notes / We don’t mean to eliminate nothin’ but we gonna just hear / The black notes at this time if you don’t mind.” 

These words come from the titular track on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 1971 album Blacknuss; this epigrammatic paean is the inspiration behind a rebranded iteration of Chicago film stalwart Floyd Webb’s longtime screening series, Black World Cinema. Now called the Blacknuss Network, the organization itself has evolved from regular in-person events to a full-fledged alternative media syndicate, complete with an online streaming channel called 

The channel goes outside the bounds of mainstream cinema, focusing on films that viewers likely haven’t seen. The organization has expanded behind the scenes as well, with a new team of collaborators—including Chicagoans Imani Davis, Jeff Stanley, and Deah and Whitney Barber—helping to continue advancing its mission. 

“I’ve never made a habit of trying to get the latest Black Hollywood film,” says Webb, who serves as the organization’s creative director. “That’s not what I want to do. I want to show the films that you’re not going to see. The film that’ll come and you’ll probably never see it again. Because it’s too radical, it’s too something . . . it doesn’t fit into the status quo.”

To wit, the group has livestreamed France Štiglic’s 1956 Yugoslavian war film, Valley of Peace, about a Black American pilot (played by John Kitzmiller; he became the first Black man to win the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his performance) who risks his life in World War II to protect two orphaned Yugoslav children. Other recent selections include an in-person screening of Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s restored 1989 independent film Chameleon Street, a satire based on the life of an erudite Detroit con artist; writer-director Oscar Williams’s 1972 blaxploitation film The Final Comedown, centered on a fictional Black radical group approximating the Black Panthers; and another 1972 film, Christopher St. John’s Top of the Heap.

Webb rediscovered the latter film in the early 2010s; he told the Reader then that he’d been trying to locate the film since he began programming the Blacklight Film Festival in 1982. That annual event lasted through 1995 and gave way to the Black World Cinema screening series. Meanwhile, Top of the Heap was recently restored and enjoyed a theatrical run at BAM Film in Brooklyn in late February. It’s now available on the subscription channel. 

Something of a reluctant curator, Webb is also a filmmaker and producer. Among his myriad achievements in the realm of cinema is being an associate producer on Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust; the two met at a conference for Black independent filmmakers decades ago and have remained friends since. 

Subscribers to (available for $3.99 per month or $39.99 per year, with a seven-day free trial) have access to a wide array of content, including documentary, narrative, and experimental works, both short and feature length. Curated subgroupings include films about Afrofuturism, the African continent, Black militancy, films featuring Black cultural luminaries such as Paul Robeson and Nina Simone, and Chicago-made shorts.  

“We’re curating a collection of films that would take you some digging to find,” says Floyd. “We’re [organizing] things in a way that’ll appeal to certain types of people who have radical imaginations.”

The Blacknuss Network is currently in the midst of the several-part “We Fly Away Home: A Film and Discussion Series on Afrofuturism in Cinema.” The most recent event in mid-February included shorts by Chicago-based Ytasha Womack (a filmmaker and dancer who, among other accomplishments, wrote a book on Afrofuturism) and experimental filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira (Hairpiece: A Film for Nappyheaded People [1984], Alma’s Rainbow [1994]), as well as the feature-length film The Gifted (1991), by Audrey King Lewis. 

She was the first African American woman to direct a science fiction feature, though it never received distribution because Hollywood executives felt it was “too intelligent for Black people,” per the event description. Such histories are explored in discussions around the screenings. 

Upcoming in the series are “The Africa in Afrofuturism,” with Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo, on March 6 and “Afrofuturism Short Films and Animation” on March 20. (See the website,, for more information.)

Thus the Blacknuss Network is reminiscent of the song from which it takes its name. But more than just to hear the Black notes, it’s time to see them as well—and Webb and his team are here to show us just that.

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