Celebrate Black History Month with films and events at Fort Wayne Cinema Center

As a biracial, LGBTQ-identifying resident of Fort Wayne, Cambry Hicks, 25, didn't always see himself in his community growing up.

That's part of the reason why, after graduating from South Side High School, he was eager to spend more time in New York City and work in fashion. While there, he interned at Hearst Media and got the opportunity to work with the Italian luxury fashion house Fendi during their ‘F is for Fendi’ campaign in 2017.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hicks returned to Fort Wayne, getting an apartment of his own Downtown, and he found the city changing in ways he could identify with---and wanted to be a part of.

"I would say even five or six years ago, we didn't have as many resources and things as we have now in Fort Wayne---not only for People of Color, but also for queer and trans people," Hicks says. "Fort Wayne is growing in a lot of exciting ways."

As Senior Curator at Cinema Center today, Hicks doesn't necessarily consider himself a film buff. But he's passionate about the arts and eager to help Fort Wayne realize the potential of its art house theater Downtown with fresh events that bring the space to life.

This year, for Black History Month, he has a calendar of films and events designed to illuminate a few of the many often-overlooked elements of the Black experience. He wants to elevate other Black voices and filmmakers who can bring these experiences to light.

"As a biracial person, Black and white, I always identify as 'biracial' for the simple fact that being a biracial person doesn't necessarily negate your Black experience, but also, you navigate it differently because you are sometimes more accepted in spaces, or you are looked at as 'the token Black person,'" Hicks says. "I try to check my privilege at the door. My goal is to always highlight Black voices and people who may not necessarily have a platform."

We sat down with Hicks to learn more about his experiences in Fort Wayne and what he has planned for Black History Month and Cinema Center, in general.

Cinema Center's team, from left, are Art Herbig, Alix Watson, Cambry Hicks, and Evan West.

IFW: Tell us more about yourself and your work at Cinema Center and elsewhere.

CH: As one of the two Senior Curators at Fort Wayne Cinema Center, I mainly specialize in programming. About 95 percent of what you see at Cinema Center was curated by me. 

Outside of that, I also am Associate Producer of PBS's Arts in Focus show, and I DJ and make music. If you've ever been to one of Penny Drip's late-night events, like its New Year's Eve party, I'm the DJ there.

Being in New York, DJing was my side gig, but when I came back to Fort Wayne, I didn't touch my board for a while. What got me back into it was DJing a set for Queeird Art Market, and when I did it, I was like, "Wow, I really like this." So now, I have my hands in a lot of different things.

IFW: What inspired Black History Month events you have planned for Cinema Center this year?

CH: What I was really aiming for with this year's Black History Month events was not so much history, necessarily, but just highlighting the Black experience, as a whole. Black History Month is the shortest month of the year, and I feel like we focus on the same things every year. We don't tend to focus on the Black experience, as a whole. There's laughter; there's sadness; there are so many different layers to what that experience is, and who that experience is for.

I wanted our events this year to highlight the breadth of the experience rather than repeating what we already know. Why not go a different route, and showcase people in a way that I feel is missing here in Fort Wayne? That was the big thing for me.

IFW: Give us a quick rundown of the month's events so far.

CH: Sure, we're kicking things off with a "Blast from the Past" on Friday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m. I'll be DJing music from the ‘70s, ‘80s, & ‘90s, and we'll have arcade games from those eras, too, available to play. We'll also be screening the film Friday, which is a classic 1995 comedy/drama about two friends who owe a local bully $200 and the hot mess situation they go through to come up with the money in one day (a Friday). We'll be screening that film Feb. 3-5.

Next up is our Black Filmmakers Panel on Feb. 10, hosted by my friend, Kelsey Martin. We will be screening several shorts that highlight Black filmmakers from our recent and previous Hobnobben Film Fests and other creatives Kelsey and I know in Indiana and abroad. The screening starts at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10, followed by a panel with a few of the filmmakers. You can also catch screenings of these films Feb. 11-12. 

The next weekend, Feb. 17-18, is two special events. On Friday, Feb. 17, we are doing a screening of Paris is Burning, a 1990 documentary that focuses on drag queens living in New York City and their "house" culture. It will be preceded by a short documentary film our Cinema Center crew made here called Black Joy: Niomi Onassis Knight. It's about Niomi, a trans performer who got her start in Fort Wayne at After Dark.

On Feb. 18, we'll be screening Kiki, which is essentially a 2016, modern-day version of Paris is Burning. It stars one of my New York friends, Gia Love, who has also been doing her thing in the Ballroom Community for years. (For those who don't know, Ballroom is essentially the subculture that originated in New York when Black and Latino drag queens began to organize their own pageants due to racism they experienced in more established drag circuits.)

Gia Love is one of the people I met in the fashion world of New York, and she hosts a huge cookout every year in Brooklyn, New York, called the Black Trans Liberation Cookout. She was also on the TV show Pose on FX. She's absolutely amazing, so we're doing a Q&A with her and showing the film she’s made as well.

The last weekend of the month, our event is still in the works. But on Feb. 24-25, we'll be screening the film, Kirikou and the Sorceress. It's a French-African folktale, and it's animated (but not child-friendly). The theme for the weekend is "history and stories from around the world." Stay tuned for more information!

Swag at Cinema Center.

IFW: Tell us about some of the other events you're hosting at Cinema Center so far, and your vision for the space, in general.

CH: I'm trying to bring some of my experiences and connections from New York back to Fort Wayne. Even though I was gone for such a short time, the friendships and connections I made in New York are things I'm using here to create programming at Cinema Center and elsewhere. I want to give more Fort Wayne residents the opportunity to experience people and events that you typically only find in bigger cities.

The idea of having an "art house theater" is still somewhat of a foreign concept in Fort Wayne. It seems like even though the Cinema Center has been around since the 1970s, not everyone in the community really realizes what it is.

The other week, we did a showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the audience seemed shocked when we gave away prizes and did challenges related to the film during intermission. That's the type of programming you would expect at an art house theater in New York or Chicago or Atlanta. You'll often find cool stuff, like themed drinks, that go with the film. So we're trying to bring more of that culture here, and let the community know it exists. 

There is no place else in town where you can go to see some of these films and then hear a talk with the film's makeup artists, lead actors and actresses, set designers, or directors. My big goal is to create experiences around films in a way that no one else is doing in Fort Wayne, utilizing some of my connections.

IFW: What's something you're excited to see grow in Fort Wayne?

CH: I love the Ballroom community. Anytime I'm in New York, my friends and I take part in the scene there. But as a young Black or Brown queer person from Fort Wayne, you might not know what it is. You may only be used to seeing drag at After Dark, and that's great. But experiencing Ballroom culture in the big city, even in film, helps you see where some of today's lingo and trends are originating. Otherwise, you just see elements of this culture secondhand, and you don't know its roots. That's something I'm particularly excited about.

We play films with queer themes all the time at Cinema Center, not because it's trendy now, but because it's real life. Trans and queer people deserve to see themselves on screen, too, so it's important to us to showcase as much of the human experience as we can. 

We want to offer something for everybody because it's important, especially when you live in Fort Wayne, and you might not see much of "yourself" in the people and places that are physically around you.

I wish there were more places, like Cinema Center, in Fort Wayne when I was a teenager here. I wish I would have been able to see Paris is Burning and see people, not only who look like me up on screen, but who share some of my thoughts and feelings.

We want Cinema Center to be a place where you can feel like you're represented, and you're not alone. I'm always all ears on future programming. 

Learn more

Follow Cinema Center on Facebook and Instagram for updates at @fwcinemacenter and cinamacenter.org.
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Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.