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Coolidge Corner Theatre celebrates 50 years of hip-hop

Month-long lineup curated by theater’s first Black film programmer

Olivia Grant
Coolidge Corner Theatre celebrates 50 years of hip-hop

The Coolidge Corner Theatre is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop with a month-long lineup of films, panels and a concert in August. The program “Been Here For Years: Hip Hop at 50” was curated by the theater’s first Black film programmer, Billy Thegenus. The lineup aims to showcase hip-hop’s influence on cinema over the past five decades.

The opening night film is “Wild Style,” which is widely regarded as the first hip-hop film and has a 40-year history with the Coolidge. It screens Aug. 1 at 7 p.m., and the director Charlie Ahearn will be present for a post-film Q&A.

Billy Thegenus, film programmer, Coolidge Corner Theatre PHOTO: ZAC WOLF/DANGER BOOTH

Wild Style” had its first theatrical release outside New York at the Coolidge in 1983. Graffiti artists from the film, including Fab 5 Freddy and Lady Pink created a mural for the movie’s premiere outside the theater, much to the ire of Brookline residents at the time. The former owner of the Coolidge, Justin Freed, was threatened with a fine if he didn’t remove the artwork.   

Thegenus leaned into this history when he set out to create this summer’s program. In a phone interview he said he originally pitched the idea as a hip-hop midnight movie series with “Wild Style” as the opening film to Mark Anastasio, the theater’s director of special programming. Anastasio wanted to expand Thegenus’ idea to a month of screenings with a concert.

Thegenus officially became the Coolidge’s programming and outreach coordinator in June. “Billy is the only Black film programmer working full time on the staff of the Boston area’s independent film theaters like the Brattle, the Somerville, West Newton, or institutions such as the MFA and Harvard Film Archive,” according to an email from Anastasio.


This fact is not lost on Thegenus. He was very intentional with his programming decisions, making sure he showed hip-hop to audiences in a fresh and multifaceted way.

“What I want is for people to feel like this is not only something to be celebrated, but also to know there’s more than one side to this culture. You’re going to get stories that are dramatic, comedies, horror, documentaries and concert films,” he said. “You won’t be able to pigeonhole one culture into a box.”

Thegenus is most excited to screen music video director Hype Williams’ only feature length film, “Belly.” The film, showing Aug. 23, stars rappers Nas, DMX and Method Man. “I’ve never seen it in a theater. I’ve never seen it on film,” he said. “Visually, it’s just a stunning and a remarkable piece of work.”

Other screenings and events he’s enthusiastic about include “8 Mile” in 35mm on Aug. 8. The screening will include a panel discussion with Chilla Jones, a Boston battle rapper, in association with the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute at Harvard. Additional Boston-based hip-hop artists DJ 7L, Akrobatik and STL GLD will be featured in a musical showcase Aug. 18 at 8 p.m.

“The Forty-Year-Old Version” PHOTO: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

The program also includes a pre-film seminar for “Clockers” on Aug. 22 with a discussion on Spike Lee’s adaption of the Richard Price novel into a film.

The closing night movie is “The Forty-Year-Old Version” directed by Radha Blank, who will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A on Aug. 30.

Thegenus noted the lack of hip-hop films directed by women, especially Black women.

“I really wanted to highlight this movie and didn’t want it to get lost in the lineup. This movie is directed by someone who’s a cool new voice and that ties perfectly to the beginning of our series.”

The only other movie in the program directed by a woman is “CB4,” directed by Tamra Davis and starring Chris Rock. It screens Aug. 12.

“Hip-hop is a beautiful culture,” Thegenus said. “And I hope it goes on for at least another 50 years.”