“He wasn’t given the kind of limitless possibilities a white choreographer would have been given”: An interview with Jamila Wignot on Ailey
Ailey is the fascinating new documentary from American filmmaker Jamila Wignot that delves into the life, work and legacy of dance choreographer Alvin Ailey.
Taking a visually poetic approach that reflects the creative output of her subject, Wignot paints an immersive, impressionistic portrait of a man who was incredibly generous of spirit and yet remained a mysterious enigma to many. Through the use of archival footage, never-heard-before audio interviews from Ailey himself and present-day footage of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater rehearsing a hip-hop dance performance inspired by his life, the director provides a tribute to the groundbreaking work as well as a study of a tortured artist.
The film also exposes the challenges of being a black, queer choreographer in the white-dominated sphere of dance in 1950s America – some of which sadly endure in the arts and culture realm to this day. Nuanced issues such as the fame of a lone black artist being used as a smokescreen for a lack of genuine progress and the limitations put on what are seen to be appropriate subjects for black artists to cover are deftly raised. When faced with a world reluctant to accept him, he simply built his own; this is what made him such a trailblazer and a force to be remembered.
The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking to the director about how she came to be involved with the project, the process of making the documentary and the themes she sees arising from the narrative she’s created.
Ailey is released in select cinemas and on-demand on 7th January 2022.
Watch the trailer for Ailey here: