Maya Cade is currently serving as the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI)‘s Scholar-in-Residence. For her two-year-long project, “Black Film Archive: Tenderness in Black Film,” she is exploring Library collections to unpack meanings of Black tenderness in film. She plans to not only continue building the Black Film Archive, but also produce a documentary film that captures conversations between herself and Black filmmakers.
Her work has appeared in multiple venues, including: Architectural Digest, Boston Globe, and more. She also recently programmed a film series, “Try a Little Tenderness,” for the Academy Museum.
We sat down with Maya to learn more about her recent visit to the Library, her experience as a CCDI Scholar-in-Residence, and how tenderness in Black film can awaken the senses.
In November, you visited the Library and shared about that journey with other users on Twitter. What is the significance of connecting Black film enthusiasts with the Library’s collections?
New ideas, research, and explorations can take root by connecting Black film enthusiasts with the Library. When creating Black Film Archive, I began chanting to myself that “an Archive that does not reach the public it intends to serve is only an idea, regardless of its holdings.”
Capturing my research weeks at the Library is done in the spirit of that mantra. I documented my experience via a Twitter thread that shared my research curiosities and findings. Generally, people on Twitter were delighted to see the points of interest I took hold of in the Library’s collections. Through my work, I hope to make new paths of curiosity visible to a public that wants to know more about the Library’s vast collections that may not feel accessible to them.
How has your experience as a CCDI Scholar-in-Residence been meaningful to you?
Becoming a CCDI Scholar-in-Residence has transformed my relationship with research and trusting my own curiosities. With the support of the Library, my life’s work has been given new structures – support from Library staff in CCDI and beyond, tangible fiscal resources, and endless research tools – to succeed and thrive beyond what I previously thought possible. The limit to what my future can look like beyond this engagement does not exist. That means more than I can express.
As you’ve been exploring Black films within the Library’s holdings, what have been some of your favorite finds?
On my very first visit to the Library, I saw a wonderful film, “Yamekraw” (1930), for the first time. The movie about a Black settlement centers on a “boy meets girl” tale. With its wildly innovative camera and storytelling techniques, the cinematic short has expanded the boundaries I previously put on my tenderness research. With “Yamekraw” leading the charge, it became clear my research would no longer be a straightforward path—an idea I gleefully welcomed with open arms.
What are you working on now?
My research at the Library has two major deliverables – a filmography of tenderness and a short documentary on tenderness in Black cinema. As the work on the filmography nears the finish line, I’m currently thinking of the best way to present my findings to the public. I’m also beginning the prep work for the documentary on tenderness in Black Film, my first film. Beyond my research at the Library, I’m curating film programs and writing.
What are you hoping to achieve with your project, “Black Film Archive: Tenderness in Black Film”?
As Saidiya Hartman writes in her transformative study of Black refusal, Wayward Lives, “In a moment of tenderness, the future seems possible.” With “Black Film Archive: Tenderness in Black Film,” I hope to illuminate possibilities in Black cinema’s past with tenderness as a navigational tool to explore its riches. If love enriches the senses, tenderness awakens them. May we all be awakened by how tenderness in Black film’s past opens pathways for love and connection.
What advice do you have for those who are interested in applying to CCDI’s next round of Artist/Scholar in Residence opportunities?
My advice is simple: Elevating resources from the Library for communities of color requires courage. The courage to focus your work on the research question you’re drawn to, the courage to push yourself to find the regenerative answers in the archive, and the courage to see the task through. Lead with courage.
CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This four-year program provides financial and technical support to individuals, institutions and organizations to create imaginative projects using the Library’s digital collections and centering one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here.