Black Film Center/Archive restoring documentary about poet before hosting premiere at IU Cinema

Thanks to a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, the Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University will preserve the 1976 documentary film “Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah W. Fabio.”

The restored film will then premiere April 22 at IU Cinema as part of the “A Change Is Gonna Come: Black Revolutionary Poets” film series. Filmmaker Cheryl Fabio — Sarah’s daughter, who produced the documentary as her Master of Arts thesis film in communications at Stanford University — is expected to attend.

BFC/A director Michael T. Martin with Sarah Fabio in Seattle in this undated photo.

Black Film Center/Archive director Michael T. Martin with Sarah Fabio in Seattle in this undated photo, posted here courtesy of the BFC/A.

Considered a major figure in the black art and cultural consciousness movements of the 1960s and 1970s through her contributions as a poet, performer, literary critic and educator, Sarah Webster Fabio (1928-1979) is strongly associated with the Black Arts Movement. She’s been celebrated as the “Mother of Black Studies” for her pioneering work in the 1960s to establish programs at University of California at Berkeley and Oakland’s Merritt College, a focal point of the early Black Power movement in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Her major poetic work includes the seven-volume series “Rainbow Signs.” Today, her influence is perhaps recognized most widely through her four Folkways Records albums, including “Boss Soul” and “Jujus/Alchemy of the Blues,” which set her poetry to the music of the Don’t Fight the Feelin’ band, featuring her sons, Cyril Leslie Fabio III and Ronald Fabio, and son-in-law Wayne Wallace.

Upon learning of the preservation grant, Cheryl Fabio shared her thoughts with the Black Film Center/Archive: “I am so very delighted that this work will be preserved and that ‘Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah W. Fabio’ will continue to contribute to the ongoing legacy of my mother and her work. Now, as an older woman and after having witnessed both my mother’s personal life and her career life I am astounded by the feats she accomplished. In addition to making a difficult career choice, she raised the five of us relentlessly fighting for us during a difficult transition in history. I am also in awe of the fact that she trusted this documentation to me. I was only 22 years old at the time. When I realized that this film might be among the few or, even only, visual moving documents of my mother I was touched again by the honor she bestowed on me.”

Established in 1981 on the Bloomington campus, the Black Film Center/Archive is a repository of films and related materials made by, about and featuring African Americans, the people of Africa and the African diaspora. Holdings date from 1895 to the present and include films, personal papers, posters, photographs, pressbooks and interviews with filmmakers and actors. It is part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

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