The stage was set, the smell of food lingered in the air, and 90’s jams filled the room as the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center (NMBCC) and the Black Film Center & Archive hosted a karaoke night with the theme of Black movie soundtracks at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Grand Hall of the NMBCC building.
The stage had a ‘90s-themed backdrop decorated with colorful spray-painted phrases like “Afro Punk” and “Black Rock” across a red brick wall. Tables were decorated with themes of iconic Black movies and their soundtracks including songs from “Dreamgirls,” “The Wiz,” “Love & Basketball” and “The Temptations.”
IU sophomore Terry Johnson said he grew up watching a lot of these iconic Black movies with his mother. Johnson said his favorite was “Dreamgirls” because it was also his mother’s favorite. For his first performance of the night, He performed the film’s title song “Dreamgirls” as a duet with his friend. Johnson said that he loved the evening and the chance to reenact this song.
“I loved it,” Johnson said. “I love Black people and I love Black music, so it’s a yes for me.”
Johnson is also a part of IU chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People executive board serving as the outreach chair. Johnson said this month has been great so far. He is looking forward to more “Blackness” this month the most.
“People try it (Black culture), but you can’t deny it, and that's on Chaka Khan,” Johnson said.
According to the NMBCC website, its mission is to “strive to create and consistently facilitate activities and programming that challenge, support and contribute to the continued development and success of Black students within the IU community.” They are a dedicated “living history” space for students to explore racial identity and express the values of a diverse and engaged learning community.
IU freshman Zaniab Diouf said the event was fun and it was nice meeting new people on campus. Diouf said that while she didn’t grow up watching some of these iconic films, she still sang along even when she didn’t know the words.
“The event has allowed me to really see my community and see my culture,” Diouf said. “I grew up around a lot of white people, so it was nice to be able to meet more people in my culture”
Gloria Howell, director of the NMBCC, said the expectations of the night were to be informal and that they wanted people to come from class or work, get some food, hangout and enjoy themselves at a lighthearted and fun event.
“We know that music like Black music is something that brings people together,” Howell said. “So, it’s kind of like a natural thing for people to kind of connect through music.”
The NMBCC and the Black Film Center & Archive are partnering with the City of Bloomington for this year’s Black History Month and its theme of celebrating Black cinema. Howell said this event came from the NMBCC’s love of music and how they wanted to incorporate it into the theme of Black cinema.
“I thought ‘wow, sometimes the movies, the soundtracks are just as memorable as the movies themselves,’” Howell said. “There’s several movies where like I can’t talk about the movie without thinking about music that goes with it. So, it just made sense.”
There were many students, staff and community members participating in the event. The most enthusiastic crowd engagement was during a duet of “Listen” from “Dreamgirls.” People sang along and gave a standing ovation to the singers. By the end of the night, almost everyone in attendance got on stage to sing.
In the middle of the night around 7:45 p.m., the DJ played the song “Da’ Butt” by Experience Unlimited from the 1988 Spike Lee film “School Daze.” The crowd split into halves, where some danced with old school moves like the cabbage patch and the others danced with newer dance moves like the TikTok dance challenge #leftdoitrightdoit.
Howell said that the NMBCC prides itself on making its space accessible to community members and students alike. She is looking forward to the fan favorite “Black Knowledge Bowl” on Feb. 21 and the NMBCC new event “Kick It” where they will be celebrating the food and movies of Black culture.
“I’m excited about that because it’s like everything beautifully Black like put together,” Howell said. “And, you know, it’s Black History Month. I’m excited about everything that’s Black.”
Information about future events the NMBCC will be hosting for Black History Month, and the rest of the year is available-on its website.