1987, Martinique / U.S., 46 min, DCP, Dir. Sarah Maldoror, Not Rated, The Association Sarah Maldoror and Mario de Andrade

Aimé Césaire: The Mask of Words

Tuesday, April 25

“The use of his poems on the soundtracks as we whizz along the skytrain in Miami, the wisdom of Maya Angelou, and Césaire himself talking with such clarity and passion about surrealism and the 'African Art message' – this is a precious thing indeed.” –Silent London


Join us at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, April 25 for a special screening and conversation with Miami filmmakers and scholars about the history and future of Miami in a Francophone Caribbean context of anticolonialism, poetry, and radical film. The conversation will be moderated by UM School of Communications Professor and Associate Dean of Inclusion and Outreach Terri Francis (she/her). This event will be followed by a reception on the plaza. Tickets are FREE for University of Miami students with a valid ID.

In Aimé Césaire: The Mask of Words (“Le masque des mots”), director Sarah Maldoror depicts a foundational figure of the Négritude movement against the backdrop of 1987 Miami. Maldoror makes the city of Miami a protagonist in her homage to the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, as her footage shuttles from FIU to the Everglades to the recently-opened Metrorail. Through her juxtaposition of Martinique and Miami, Maldoror raises important questions about the endurance of colonial legacies in both locations. And by linking Black Miami to Aimé Césaire’s poetry and politics, the film makes an urgent case for a Pan-Caribbean coalition of all those “without whom the earth would not be the earth.”

The post-film conversation will explore storytelling, surrealism, Négritude, Black Miami history, and filmmaking with Donette Francis (she/her), director for the Center for Global Black Studies at the University of Miami, Marina Magloire (she/her), a Martinican-American scholar and an Assistant Professor of English at University of Miami, Helen Peña (they/them), Dominican-American child of the Atlantic, filmmaker, and community organizer from Miami, FL, and Monica Sorelle (she/they), a Haitian-American filmmaker and artist born and based in Miami. The event includes a reception by Paradis Books and Bread with music by Akia Dorsainvil, aka DJ Pressure Point (he/they). Set list to feature zouk and kompa.

This event is presented in partnership with the University of Miami Center for Global Black Studies and the University of Miami School of Communication.

About the speakers

Donette Francis (she/her) is co-director for the Center for Global Black Studies at the University of Miami. An Associate Professor of English and founding member of the Hemispheric Caribbean Studies Collective, her research and writing investigate place, aesthetics and cultural politics in the African Diaspora. Professor Francis is the author of Fictions of Feminine Citizenship: Sexuality and the Nation in Contemporary Caribbean Literature and has edited several special journal issues: including “Looking for Black Miami: Black Intellectual and Artistic Formations,” Anthurium, (Spring 2020) She is currently working on two book projects: Illegibilities: Caribbean Cosmopolitanisms and the Problem of Form, an intellectual history of the Anglophone Caribbean’s transnational literary culture, 1940-1970; and Creole Miami: Black Arts in the Magic City, a sociocultural history of black arts practice in Miami from 1980s to present.

Marina Magloire (she/her) is a Martinican-American scholar and an Assistant Professor of English at University of Miami. She co-founded Third World Feminist School—a popular education program centering the knowledge and resistance of gender-oppressed people from across the Global South—alongside her collaborators Zaina Alsous, Helen Peña, and Bobuq Sayed. Her research explores questions of spirituality, memory, and gender in African diasporic literature, and she is particularly interested in using archives as a Black feminist ancestral practice. Her writing on these topics has been published in Harper’s Magazine, The Paris Review, The Nation, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Boston Review, among others. Marina’s first book, We Pursue Our Magic: A Spiritual History of Black Feminism, is forthcoming in fall 2023.

Helen Peña (they/them) is a Dominican-American child of the Atlantic, filmmaker, and community organizer from Miami, FL. They use filmmaking to tell the stories of Third world women and their relationship to the natural world for resistance and spiritual practice. Their work has screened in festivals across the country including Prismatic Ground, New Orleans Film Festival and Third Horizon Film Festival. In 2020, Helen participated in the UCLA Sanctuary Spaces Residency, where they worked on their first short film, When Angels Speak of Love, which screened on PBS South Florida. In 2017, Helen co-founded (F)empower, a collective of queer feminist artist-activists. Their art and organizing has been showcased at the Museum of Modern Art, the Norton Museum of Art, ICA Miami and more.

Monica Sorelle (she/they) is a Haitian-American filmmaker and artist born and based in Miami. Her work explores alienation and displacement, and preserves cultural traditions within Miami and the Caribbean with a focus on the African and Latin diasporas that reside there. Her photo and video work has been shown in group exhibitions at Oolite Arts and the University of Maryland, and supported by Pérez Art Museum Miami’s Caribbean Cultural Institute Artist Fellowship. She has produced and worked as a department head on films for Film Independent, A24, HBO & PBS. Monica has served as a creative producer for films that have won awards at Berlinale, BlackStar, and Miami Film Festival and have been exhibited at Sundance, New Orleans Film Festival, and on Criterion Channel. Monica is a member of Third Horizon, a creative collective dedicated to developing, producing, exhibiting, and distributing work which gives voice to stories of the Caribbean and its diaspora. Currently, Monica is a Cinematic Arts resident at Oolite Arts, where she is in post-production for her feature film directorial debut, Mountains.

The reception features music by Akia Dorsainvil, aka DJ Pressure Point (he/they). DJ Pressure Point is a Haitian-American DJ specializing in sounds of the Black Diaspora. He is a co-founder of Masisi, a queer Caribbean party series and social organization based in South Florida.

Click here to read Dr. Terri Francis' essay Encountering Miami Négritude with Filmmaker Sarah Maldoror (July 19, 1929 − April 13, 2020).

Imagine that in the midst of Ronald Reagan’s 1980s America of deregulation, affirmative action backlash, boatlifts and incarceration, cocaine wars, police brutality, and epidemics, we find a marvelous, Afrosurreal departure – an academic conference but an intellectual quilombo, an escape yet also an ecstatic Black refusal. Imagine that out of the heat and listlessness, there were three days of cool, energized Blackness, full of music, lectures, and panels in tribute to Aimé Césaire, architect of Négritude. And imagine its original participants witnessed, documented, and treasured it so we could revisit it today.

In 1987 from February 26 to 28, Florida International University hosted a landmark conference called Négritude, Ethnicity, and Afro Cultures in the Americas This remarkable encounter saw Césaire and Léopold Senghor in conversation about their different yet related explorations of Blackness and poetry and it was organized by Cuban-born writer and scholar of African and African American history and culture Dr. Carlos Moore during his Fulbright year in the United States. Moore, with coeditors Tanya R. Saunders and Shawna Moore, published the conference proceedings as African Presence in the Americas (1995).

Guadeloupean filmmaker Sarah Maldoror captured the conference in Aimé Césaire: le masque des mots/Aimé Césaire: Mask of Words. Best known as the director of the Angolan film Sambizinga (1972), Maldoror documented FIU’s Négritude symposium with her own vision and in doing so expanded its thematic, temporal, and geographical terrain to include not only the college campus, but downtown Miami, the Everglades, and Martinique, Césaire’s birthplace. In Aimé Césaire, Miami is a Black capital that connects Haiti, Guadeloupe, and Martinique in Négritude, through Césaire’s poetry, read by fellow poet and author Maya Angelou.

What is Négritude? A form of Black consciousness, Négritude is a literary and cultural theory that Césaire, Senghor and Léon Damas developed in France during the 1930s. Their concerns had to with uncovering Black culture as a source of freedom, purpose, and passionate intercultural dialogue and mutual respect. Some of the movement’s founders went on to become both independence politicians and acclaimed poets, with Senghor serving as Sénégal’s first president. Césaire, author of Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Return to My Native Land, 1939) served as the mayor of Fort de France, Martinique for several decades.

Periodicals were the essential social media of the early and mid-twentieth century. Progressive-minded surrealist Suzanne Césaire co-founded and edited the fiery journal Tropiques with René Ménil and Aimé Césaire. Published in Martinique under the watchful eyes of government censors, this journal, along with Paris-produced L’Etudiant noir (The Black Student) Légitime Défense and Présence Africaine, amplified the independent voices of the Black World. Their work brought forth a major recalibration of culture that repositioned Africa and the Caribbean as centers of heritage and of originality and beauty and fueled decolonization.

Though brief, Maldoror’s 46-minute film captures the breadth of this extraordinary encounter between francophone Négritude and Miami.

Maldoror positions Miami as a Black World center and centers the Black World of Miami.

About Dr. Terri Francis

Terri Francis (she/her) is a film scholar specializing in historical and avant-garde global Black film. Dr. Francis is the author of Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism (Indiana University Press, 2021) and a forthcoming book Afrosurrealism in Film, Video and Contemporary Art. Francis is a 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grantee and she edited a 2013 special issue of Black Camera on Afrosurrealism. Currently, Dr. Francis is working on an article for the African American Review’s special issue on Afrosurrealism that explores Florida surrealisms in 1980s Black Miami and is co-editing a special issue of Feminist Media Histories on filmmakers Camille Billops and James V. Hatch for (2025).

Celebrate National Poetry Month with this special series featuring three films: Aimé Césaire: The Mask of Words, Before Night Falls and Dead Poets Society. Launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996, National Poetry Month is a special occasion that celebrates poets’ integral role in our culture and that poetry matters. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of people marking poetry’s important place in our lives.

Check out the rest of our Poetry Month program!