AFI Movie Club: POSSE – American Film Institute
Posse Film Still - Reginald VelJohnso


AFI Movie Club: POSSE

POSSE, Mario Van Peebles’ rousing tribute to African American heroes of the Old West, screens Oct. 16-22 at AFI FEST presented by Audi as part of the festival’s Cinema’s Legacy program. This year’s program, curated by Dr. Racquel Gates, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the College of Staten Island, CUNY and author of “Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture,” reframes and restores Black stories as an integral part of American film history. GET TICKET

Watch Racquel Gates announce the film:

Movie Trivia about TODAY’S FILM

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE is based on the true story of African American settlers in the West who were fighting for Constitutional rights to own land and vote. Although approximately 8,000 Black cowboys inhabited the western frontier, their stories had been generally left out of the mainstream cultural vernacular until POSSE hit the big screen.

DID YOU KNOW? Most of the real-life Black townships in the west were destroyed due to the “Grandfather Clause,” which prohibited African Americans from voting if their grandfathers were slaves. Settlers of color were intimidated and lynched to prevent their full enfranchisement as citizens of the United States.

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE was loosely based on co-screenwriter Sy Richardson’s grandfather, a Southern Evangelical Baptist minister who traveled throughout Black communities in the late 19th century. POSSE marked Richardson’s first feature film as a writer, but he also worked as an actor in such films as REPO MAN and WALKER.

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE was filmed in Tucson, Arizona, with a budget of $10 million. Shooting began 28 years ago this month in October of 1992.

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE was the first feature film released by Polygram Entertainment’s distribution company, Gramercy Pictures, which was eventually renamed Focus Features.

DID YOU KNOW? POSSE marked Mario Van Peebles’ second feature film as a director, after NEW JACK CITY. He was previously known for his work as an actor and also performed in both movies. His father, Melvin Van Peebles, was a prolific and groundbreaking actor, writer and director.

DID YOU KNOW? Despite receiving critical acclaim, POSSE was barred from being screened at the Cineplex Odeon in Universal City, CA – ostensibly because a shooting had taken place at the theater during the release of BOYZ N THE HOOD. Director Mario Van Peebles disputed the restriction and noted that the fear of violence represented Hollywood’s widespread efforts to silence Black filmmakers.

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-POSSE begins with the character of an old man played by Black actor Woody Strode, who, in his youth, was one of the very few African American actors to perform in classic Hollywood westerns. Why do you think the filmmakers used this framing narrative device? Does it make the story seem more authentic?

-Although POSSE was not the first Black western, it dedicates itself to revising Hollywood’s exclusion of African American filmmakers and characters. Knowing that there were approximately 8,000 Black settlers living in the west, and that an accurate historical account of this time period would have included them, why do you think that most Hollywood westerns have featured all-white casts and crews?

-When the gang arrives at the Black township Freemansville, they are recruited to help protect the residents from a nearby sheriff and his Ku Klux Klan compatriots, who covet the land for themselves. How does this mission change the men?

-How does POSSE compare or contrast to traditional western tropes and conventions featuring white stories and protagonists?

-POSSE portrays sex and extreme violence as a vehicle of masculine power. Do you think the film effectively represents its few female characters, or are they dehumanized and objectified to uphold the domination of men? Do you think the violence was explicit with a purpose, or was it similarly exploitative?

-How would you rate POSSE?


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AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience.

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