Once a Memphis underdog, the Hattiloo found its niche by offering something no one else in the city could provide: quality live theater performances aimed primarily at African Americans. Mastermind Ekundayo Bandele leveraged his success on Marshall Avenue into a brand new theater facility in Overton Square. Now the hands-on impresario is returning to Marshall with a new endeavor: the Baobab Filmhouse.
Set in the Hattiloo's former black-box space, the 42-seat theater is a labor of love. "I installed all of the seats," Bandele says. "My wife and I have been in here for the past month building and painting."
Like the Hattiloo, Baobab Filmhouse is intended for an overlooked population. "My impetus was the Academy Awards, when no blacks were nominated this year," Bandele says. "There are so many great black films out there — they may not be mainstream, many of them are indie. So my goal is to share those great films made not just by black Americans, but by blacks worldwide. We've got films coming out of Zimbabwe, Toronto, Jamaica. We want to provide a platform for people to come see great black film."
Baobab opens this Friday with CRU, a 2014 film by director Alton Glass that traces the ripple effects of a single car accident on the lives of a group of friends. A new film will start every two weeks, with each offering running for a month in a staggered schedule to fit on Baobab's single screen. Next up is The Tested, which Bandele calls "A timely film, because it deals with a white police officer killing a black teen. It's not only about how the black community deals with it; it's about how the white officer deals with it."
Other future offerings include the Chris Rock vehicle 2 Days in New York and Charles Burnett's classic Killer of Sheep. "We have films lined up all the way to next March," Bandele says. "I think it's going to be a good addition for our city."