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Caribbean Trailblazers: Filmmaker Menelik Shabazz

by Karen Rollins Oct 3, 2022

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Photo credit: Caribbean Tales Film Festival website

Barbadian-born director Menelik Shabazz, who is arguably best known for his film about the romantic reggae genre ‘Lover’s Rock,’ was a Caribbean trailblazer.

Born in 1954 in the parish of St John, Menelik left Barbados at the age of five when his family moved to England, where his interest in filmmaking took off. Menelik’s official website adds: “From an early age Menelik watched mobile cinema in his village in Barbados but didn’t entertain the idea of making films until his teen years.”

Menelik enrolled at the London International Film School but unfortunately, due to a lack of grant funding from his local authority, had to drop out of classes. However, this temporary disappointment didn’t deter Menelik, as he insisted that, that short period of study gave him “important knowledge, confidence, and inspiration to move forward as a filmmaker.”

Menelik released his debut film ‘Burning an Illusion’ in 1982. The movie won critical acclaim and set him up as a new and exciting black director with an important point of view.

Working with various other individuals, Menelik established the black film collective ‘Ceddo Film and Video Workshop’ which was part of a vision to “empower black film production, training and film screenings.” Ceddo produced several hard-hitting documentaries on various subjects affecting the African and Caribbean communities around the world but especially in the UK.

In 1998, after becoming increasingly frustrated with a lack of funding for films and TV dramas, Menelik stopped directing and focused on launching his new publishing project the Black Filmmaker Magazine (BFM).

The BFM was well-received as the first magazine of its kind to provide a platform solely aimed at promoting black cinema and black acting talent. In 1999, Menelik also created the BFM International Film Festival which developed into one of the biggest film festivals in Europe and lasted for 11 years.

His love for directing was rekindled in 2007 after a short stint working in the Nigerian film industry, also known as Nollywood. In 2008, he started filming an ode to Lover’s Rock with a documentary which would fuse interviews and live musical performances with archive footage. The feature was released in 2011 and became “one of the highest grossing documentaries in UK cinemas.”

In 2015, Menelik released another documentary called ‘Looking for Love’ examining black relationships in the digital era.

Sadly, Menelik died in June 2021.

But, he never forgot his island roots, despite leaving Barbados when he was just a child, and the island along with the entire region, should be proud of all his filmmaking achievements.

Sources: Menelik Shabazz.co.uk and Screen Online.