Menelik Shabazz, the impactful British filmmaker, has died at 67. The news has been widely circulated on social media, with numerous people who worked closely with the director confirming his passing and adding tributes today.
According to arts website alt-africa, he died in Zimbabwe on June 28. No cause of death was given.
Born in Barbados in 1954, Shabazz moved to the UK at age 6. He began experimenting with filmmaking while at college in London and made his first step into his career with the 1976 short Step Forward Youth, a 30-minute documentary about Black youths in London.
After gigs directing television, he embarked on his first feature, Burning an Illusion, which he wrote and directed. The acclaimed movie, supported by the British Film Institute, told the story of a young Black woman’s love life. The pic is said to be only the second ever British feature directed by a Black filmmaker and is considered an important entry in the history of UK cinema. It won the Grand Prix at the Amien International Film Festival in 1982.
Shabazz’s work also included 1981’s Blood Ah Go Run, made in response to the New Cross fire that killed 13 young Black people and sparked widespread demonstrations in London over inaction from authorities.
In 1998, frustrated by a lack of funding opportunities in the UK biz, he withdrew from filmmaking to focus on publishing the Black Filmmaker Magazine, as well as various educational endeavors. The publication lasted for nine years and also encompassed the BFM International Film Festival, first run in 1999.
In 2007, he travelled to Nigeria to work with investors looking to produce films in the growing Nollywood industry. The experience rekindled his desire to make movies and he returned with several titles including 2011 reggae “fusion documentary” The Story Of Lover’s Rock and more recently Looking for Love, a look into the lives of single people in the digital era.
A retrospective screening of Burning an Illusion is due to be held at Sheffield Doc/Fest on June 12.
Ashley Clark, Curatorial director at Criterion, said on Twitter today that Shabbaz was “an important and influential figure” and described Burning An Illusion as “one of the great British films”.
UK journalist Nadine White, a race correspondent at the Independent, added that the filmmaker was “a true pioneer in the development of contemporary Black British cinema.
The UK’s Independent Cinema Office called Shabbaz “a pioneer and his energy, generosity and passion will be sorely missed”, while the BFI tweeted that he was “always at the forefront of putting films about the Black experience on the centre stage, inspiring many filmmakers and film fans”.