By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 06, 2023 at 4:01 PM

OnMilwaukee is proud to highlight Black History Month in Milwaukee and beyond. Our goal is to highlight even more Black-owned businesses and stories. Be sure to visit our first spotlight pick: Tropic MKE, owned by Hyacinth Nembhardt. Hyacinth's Jamaican roots were what inspired Tropic, bringing island vibes in both cocktails and cooking. Check out their sister bar, Concoctions, on Brady! Stop in for a visit. 

January has just begun, but Milwaukee Film is already looking ahead to next month as the organization announced its Black History Month programming – an entertaining and enlightening mix of movie screenings and live events – coming to the Oriental Theatre and beyond in February. 

Throughout the month, Milwaukee Film will host and highlight eight films and seven events, all centering Black culture, history, conversations, stories, music and more, on and off the big screen. The movie selections include a kung fu-fueled cult classic (directed by a Milwaukee native!), a modern coming-of-age comedy, documentaries ranging in topic from political activism to musical movements, shorts with depth and much more. 

"I am looking forward to exploring how Black film can continually be used as an agent to reimagine, re-inform and reinvent the day-to-day realities for those in the diaspora,” said Marquise Mays, programmer for Milwaukee Film's Black Lens program, in a release. “From historical documentaries, romantic comedies, music videos and experimental expressions, the films chosen for Black History Month seek to proclaim that Black film exists in its own solar system of infinite moments and futures."

Here's the list of Black History Month film screenings coming to the Oriental Theatre over the next month:

"The Big Payback"

  • Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m.

The first Black History Month screening, "The Big Payback" takes a dive into the ongoing conversation about reparations for slavery in America – focusing on an Illinois alderwoman's fight to make reparations a reality for her constituents and the complex conflicts meeting her every step of the way. 

"The Last Dragon"

  • Saturday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m.

A genre-smashing cult classic since its debut in the mid-'80s, "The Last Dragon" – directed by Milwaukee native Michael Schultz – makes its ridiculously entertaining return to the big screen, telling the story of a young NYC martial arts expert hoping to achieve the final level of his training while facing off against fierce rivals and conspiring kidnappers. Be sure to show up for this ultimate Glow up. 

"The African Desperate"

  • Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.

A coming-of-age saga defying cliches and conventions, Martine Syms' directorial debut follows a new art school graduate's crazy final day, from navigating pretentious art school professors and fellow students to finding genuine connections and wondering what comes next for you and one's art. And maybe tripping on drugs amongst all the chaos, too. 

Black Love Through A Black Lens shorts

  • Saturday, Feb. 11 at noon

Short on running time but long on ideas, variety and creativity, this Black Lens shorts compilation tells a number of stories across multiple genres – all coming back to the concept of Black love in its many forms, meanings and expressions, fitting since Valentine's Day will be just a few days away. 


  • Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m.

Exexective produced by John Legend, this documentary profile not only tells the story of Rev. Al Sharpton's rise as one of the most notable and recognized voices against racial injustice but also follows him behind the scenes as he rallies political movement, protest and progress in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder. 

"Juneteenth: Faith & Freedom"

  • Saturday, Feb. 18 at noon

We all know Juneteenth – but through a series of conversations, "Juneteenth: Faith & Freedom" attempts to get a better understanding of the history and meaning of the holiday, from its origins to its religious and spiritual significance and how it still reverberates into our modern times. 

"Fire Music"

  • Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m.

Easily the best sounding movie of Milwaukee Film's Black History Month program, this rock doc follows the evolution – sonically as well as culturally – of the free jazz movement of the '60s and '70s, and those who pushed it forward, such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra and others. 

"An Oversimplification of Her Beauty"

  • Saturday, Feb. 25 at noon

The 2012 breakthrough film by "Random Acts of Flyness" creator Terence Nance, this critically-acclaimed kaleidoscopic feature follows a young man as he attempts to parse out his feelings about recently getting stood up on a date across several cinematic art styles. 

In addition to these special showings at the Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee Film's Black History Month programming will feature several events – from conversations to networking to trivia to live music and even a narrated food tasting. 

"The Black Lens team wanted these events to focus on exploring black identity and celebrating the vibrancy of our local community,” said Black Lens program coordinator Deiva Motley, in the release. “Our goal for the events during the month is to reflect different interests people may have never really touched on before and just spark those conversations.”

Here are the seven events Milwaukee Film will bring to Brew City throughout Black History Month:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. – Engage & Activate: Young Professionals Forum: Hosted at Company Brewing, this forum showcases a short film along with guided discussion, networking opportunities and a happy hour.
  • Friday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. – A Leap into Afrofuturism: Hosted at Radio Milwaukee's headquarters at 220 E. Pittsburgh Ave., this conversation chats with local artists and creators envisioning the future across a plethora of art and entertainment mediums. 
  • Friday, Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. – Black History Month Trivia: Bring your Black history and culture knowledge to Company Brewing in Riverwest for this entertaining trivia test. 
  • Saturday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. – Black Love Through a Black Lens: Afrosexology: Found at Dandy, 5020 W. Vliet St., this intimate and open conversation session will discuss matters of Black love, relationships, sexuality and more. 
  • Friday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. – In Retrospect: The Life & Times of Kendrick Lamar: Movies may be the star of Milwaukee Film's programming, but they've made plenty of room for music as well – particularly this harmonic conversation, hosted at Company Brewing, with critic and writer Miles Marshall Lewis about award-winning hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar. 
  • Saturday, Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. – Groove Theory: Growing Nation: The Cooperage will host this very special concert, reuniting local R&B/soul/hip-hop band Growing Nation for their first performance in more than a decade. 
  • Sunday, Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. – For the Soul: A Narrated Food Tasting & Conversation: Held at Turning Tables Tavern & Eatery, this narrated tasting – guided by Dr. Bert Davis and Judge Derek Mosley – will feed both body and mind, diving into African American food culture and history while diving into a delicious meal. 

For more information on Milwaukee Film's Black History Month programming plans, click here – or attent their upcoming preview event, featuring trailers screened along with food, drink, live music and more, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 at The Ivy House, 906 S. Barclay St.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.