CSUN students, faculty and staff have created a work of art that serves as both an explainer of Kwanzaa’s Los Angeles origins and a means to preserve a piece of the Black history of L.A.

Their animated short film “Kwanzaa” draws from the oral history of Kicheko Davis, a former member of the US Organization, a Black Power group created in the 1960s. That oral history is part of the Black Power Archives at CSUN’s Tom and Ethel Bradley Center and was conducted by Karin Stanford, professor of Africana studies and political science in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Keith Rice, Bradley Center historian and archivist.

The short film was an interdisciplinary project that began in early 2023, with faculty and students from the Department of Art and the Department of Music in the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication who worked in collaboration with Stanford and Rice.

“To tell these stories, historians can’t do it alone. We have to be open to working with other disciplines,” said Rice.

The result of this year-long collaboration is an impressive commemoration of the creation of Kwanzaa. Colorful animations of city scenes, vibrant graphics and upbeat music accompany Davis’ narration, interspersed with footage from the oral history and images from the Bradley Center archive.

The idea for the film came from Rice, who said that he wanted to make the animation to help oral histories reach new, younger audiences. Rice also wanted to honor the origins of the world-celebrated holiday, because “Black people don’t get enough recognition for the things they do and their contributions to culture,” Rice said.

He also wanted to emphasize that Los Angeles was the birthplace of the holiday.

“The fact is,” he said, “Kwanzaa was born out of South L.A., and I think that tells you something about the importance of the Black Power movement in Los Angeles, which is often overlooked.”

Davis’ retelling of the holiday’s creation in Baldwin Hills was skillfully brought to life by students and faculty, presenting the story of Kwanzaa in an engaging manner that firmly roots the story in Los Angeles with their stunning animations of the city’s streets and landmarks.

Three student teams worked on the film: the animation team, led by Aglaia Mortcheva, professor of art and design; the motion graphics team, led by Shirin Raban, professor of art and design; and the advanced media composition team, led by Kyle Simpson, professor of music. In all, 19 students contributed to the project.

“Hopefully by animating oral histories, updating them and presenting them in ways that are palatable for younger audiences, those histories live on even longer,” said Rice.

As part of the Mike Curb College’s celebration of Black History Month, a screening of “Kwanzaa” will be held on Monday, Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. in the CSUN Main Gallery.

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