Lessons in Liberation: Ephraim Asili on the Films That Shaped Him

Lessons in Liberation: Ephraim Asili on the Films That Shaped Him<div "=""></div><div></div>

An electrifying voice in American independent cinema, the filmmaker, artist, and DJ Ephraim Asili believes that moving images can revolutionize our perception of the world. His body of work attests to this conviction. Since he began making films more than a decade ago, he has delved into the complexities of the Black experience and challenged cinematic forms and conventions. With its bold, bright colors and exuberant didacticism, Asili’s first feature, The Inheritance (2020), summons the ghost of Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise. Yet Asili’s style can hardly be boiled down to a single reference point, which is why Criterion invited the director to curate a program of films that have inspired him.

Asili’s wide-ranging approach manifests not just aesthetically but geographically. In The Diaspora Suite (2010–2017), a collection of five short documentaries, Asili considers the dimensions of pan-African identity on a global scale. The Inheritance, on the other hand, is a local affair. The film examines the responsibilities and struggles of communal life, exploring the generational legacies of Black activism and radical thought by drawing on Asili’s own years living with a Black Marxist collective in West Philadelphia. In the film, we bear witness to such a collective experiment when Julian (Eric Lockley) turns his late grandmother’s home into a revolutionary living space for artistic and political praxis. Meanwhile, Asili punctuates these (often humorous) narrative scenes with bracing reminders of how the past comes to bear on the present generation’s vision of the future. The Inheritance intersperses interviews and poetry readings by iconic Black thinkers as well as archival footage of the 1985 MOVE bombing, in which a house owned by the Black liberation group was destroyed by the city of Philadelphia.

Asili’s eclectic program for the Criterion Channel, Notes on The Inheritance, features films that blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, probe the public and private dimensions of performance, and disrupt the status quo. In the following conversation, Asili discusses his personal and artistic relationships to the work in this lineup.

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