The New Cult Classics: How A London Film Collective Is Championing True Representation On Screen
In response to the lack of diverse representation on screen, two London-based women of colour – Isra Al Kassi and Angela Moneke – founded TAPE Collective in 2015. The mission of the grassroots organisation: to champion films with a focus on identity and heritage and bring them to eager new audiences through regular screenings, events and Q&A sessions.
“Angie once said that we celebrate films that could be cult classics, because it’s all about how we present and have conversations around them,” Al Kassi explains. Highlights of the TAPE offering include Nolly Nights, a monthly screening and after-party series bringing together Nigerian cinema, music and food; Trippin’ Over My Tongue, a programme of short films by mixed heritage filmmakers exploring what it means to have a mother tongue, which toured UK venues; and Foresight, a screening of science-fiction films by directors of colour in partnership with Channel 4 and non-profit mental health organisation, Mind Over Matter.
It hasn’t stopped there. TAPE has gone beyond films to publish essays (both written and visual), create zines, host online art exhibitions and use its Good Wickedry streaming platform to spotlight one short film online per week. In 2021 it launched an impressive takeover of the British Film Institute’s Southbank cinemas and online platform with a programme titled But Where Are You Really From? It explored themes of mixed heritage identity and immigration through films and talks which ran the gamut from Black Girl, the 1966 film by revered Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, to a conversation with Nikesh Shukla, editor of the 2016 essay collection The Good Immigrant. TAPE has also ventured into film distribution; in 2022 it released Cette Maison, the debut film by Canada-based Haitian filmmaker Miryam Charles in the UK.
Evidently, TAPE has come a long way from the early days of “running around Peckham with a projector inside a suitcase that Isra borrowed from a cafe owner she knew from Streatham,” laughs Moneke. Still, while the pair are now enjoying more success, they are keen to keep reminding themselves of “what it means to have this responsibility of setting up spaces for our community so that we don’t lose track of that,” Al Kassi says.
TAPE’s evolution has occurred alongside a broader cultural progression in how audiences think about diversity and representation in the arts. Some question its longevity, says Al Kassi, who refers to “a friend who said, ‘how long will you give TAPE before you close it down?’ There’s nothing to close down,” she told them, enjoying the freedom offered by a venture that lives on a true passion for cinema, shared with a growing community. “It’s a really empowering thing to be able to have this space where all the decisions are entirely our own,” Moneke adds. “If there’s something that we’re motivated to do or excited by, we’ll make that happen.” Fundamentally, it’s all thanks to what Al Kassi refers to as a “f**k-it mentality” – the core belief that there is no limit to what they can achieve.
Caitlin Quinlan is a freelance film critic from London, who has written for publications including The Guardian, ArtReview, MUBI Notebook, Variety and W Magazine