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Alumni to discuss under-representation as Black artists

November 8, 2019

Black Arts will take center stage at a panel on Saturday morning as two Bowdoin alumni discuss their careers in film and music and the role of activism in their work. The event, titled “Black Arts: A Canvas for Social Activism,” will feature singer-songwriter Coretta King ’12 and film actor, writer and producer George Ellzey Jr. ’13.

King, who graduated with a minor in Africana Studies, uses music to reflect on her “culture, background [and] social consciousness” as a Black female artist. She hopes that the panel will help others understand both the difficult and rewarding aspects of being a Black musician.

“I’m really open to talking about those things, the hard things, [and] not necessarily sticking with surface talk,” she said. “I feel like it has made me strong to not hold back, and even just on a daily job, making sure that you hold yourself accountable when you’re interacting in environments with people that may not understand your cultural background or the nuances of being an African American.”

King now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, but believes that Black artists nationwide are too often overlooked.

“This weekend, I want to talk about how Black creatives are represented in artistic spaces, how a lot of times we’re underrepresented, and talk about those disadvantages, as well as how it reflects our experiences being on Bowdoin’s campus as well as beyond,” said King.

Ellzey also hopes to open up a dialogue on the underrepresentation of Black voices and Black faces in the arts. He is currently pursuing an MFA in directing at Depaul University, and he frequently freelances in the Chicago film community. His work focuses on the narratives of minorities, Black masculinity and Black trauma in society.

“Film has been around for 100 plus years, and we’ve had every iteration and story told [in cinema]. However, we haven’t had that many perspectives from people of color,” he said. “My charge is to create stories just geared for people of color.”

To Ellzey, opening up these perspectives in the arts is its own form of activism.

“Everyone’s an activist,” said Ellzey. “Just going into different professional fields that are not predominantly saturated with people of color is a form of activism.”

Jessica Speight ’21, an English and theater double major, will moderate the panel. She said that the topic feels especially relevant to many students of color at the College.

“It speaks to the students, especially Black students who are in the arts, who feel like there’s pushback,” she said. “This panel is not only going to help people [learn about] the important issues of activism and art and how they inform each other, but also will provide concrete facts for students to be like, ‘Okay, so this is how you can make it into a career.’”

Speight is glad that, amidst the larger celebration happening this weekend, Black artists have a chance to be heard.

“There’s always been a need for Black artists, but they don’t necessarily get the representation or the voice,” she said. “The fact that in this huge conversation, Black artists are getting a voice, I think it shows that there’s a change happening.”

Celebrating Af/Am/50

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