January 26 marked the start of a long awaited Black History Month series, Films at the Schomburg. The film selected for the premiere screening of the series was none other than Professor Robin J. HayBlack and Cuba, a documentary by Robin J. Hayeses’ award-winning documentary, Black and Cuba. The Langston Hughes Auditorium at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture was packed with socially active, interested folks who were there to explore the important subject matter and meet the woman behind the film. The historic library center is recognized as one of the leading institutions focusing exclusively on African-American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. Begun with the collections of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg 90 years ago, the Schomburg has collected, preserved, and provided access to materials documenting black life in America and worldwide. A focal point of Harlem’s cultural life, the Center also functions as the national research library in the field and sponsors programs and events that illuminate and illustrate the richness of black history and culture.


Where better to showcase Dr. Hayes’ documentary? The film features a creative crew of Ivy League students (of which Hayes is one!) who band together on an adventure to the enigmatic Caribbean island of Cuba, where the population is 60% black. Their journey reveals enthralling scenes of Cuban life and lucha (struggle). As they film, the young travelers discover connections between Cuban and American perspectives on human rights, race, and revolution. Discussions of the issues that arise from racial and economic inequality, such as the racial achievement gap in education, violence, and disparities in health care access weave in and out of amazing footage of the Cuban day-to-day. The work, ever-growing in its widespread acclamation, was created consciously in documentary film medium. Hayes chose to create a film because of its accessibility to a broad audience, outside of the ivory towers of academia. Audience members included folks of all ages, from Harlem and other NYC locals to Cuban dignitary visitors. The Q and A following the screening was a lively conversation, with many hats off to Hayes’ for both her work on the film, and her life’s work in making black studies for everyone. Dr. Hayes remarked of the evening, “The fact that the screening sold out so quickly and it was standing room only reveals there is a great demand for knowledge about Cuba and diverse representations of the African diaspora.” Way to kick of the Films at the Schomburg in style, Dr. Hayes!

Next screening: Museum of the Contemporary African Diaspora: 80 Hanson Place Brooklyn; Feb 13 7pm

Watch the trailer for Black and Cuba.

You can now rent or buy it via Vimeo On Demand here