Save the Video, Enter the Beyond — by Rai Terry

When I first became a Pathways fellow through the Association of Moving Image Archivists, I wasn’t aware of the precarity of videotape. Extremely unstable, the Library of Congress has deemed that most footage captured on videotape in past decades will soon be unviewable. This on top of the fact that in its time multiple companies were frequently coming out with unique types of video which required equipment that was equally unique, and that is now mostly obsolete. Those who still have retained such equipment and understand the technical aspects of videotape are few and far between, not to mention reaching a retiring age. All of this was striking to me, realizing that being born in 1994 most of my generation’s childhood memories were captured on these formats before we, as teenagers, switched to born-digital in the 2000s. Not to mention that archiving born-digital content has proven even more difficult due to sheer volume, and who knows how different file types will hold up on hard drives or in the cloud several years from now? 

Much of my specific interests in Black culture have revolved around my idea of “Party as Praxis” as it relates to expression in Black life. Professor Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman begins to flesh this out in her essay “The Black Ecstatic”, in which she states that certain communal moments of Black joy “reckon with the ruinous now as the site of regenerative capacity and renewed political agency.” This film is meant to express these moments of rupture across the diaspora through quick repetition of encoded gestures, and through this, displaying the inherent queerness of Black expression. It is unclear to the viewer whether they are in a queer space, a church space, a collegiate space, a club space, etc. The through-line in all of these environments is, as Karen Clark-Sheard states in part of the opening to the film is to “open up your big ole Black mouth”, that is, to shout and express life in whatever form it comes out, that it may open up different possibilities of futurity.

I made this film as my final project for Regina Longo’s “Memory, Identity, and the Archival Paradigm” course at Brown University. I sourced the project almost entirely through Youtube, with two original film additions from the archive at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I also made this film to demonstrate the need to actively seek out and preserve materials from this time period, both videotape and born-digital, especially as it pertains to marginalized and less represented communities. I am currently completing a Summer Practicum at the South Side Home Movie Project, and as founder Jaqueline Stewart states, many middle-class Black American families could afford 16mm film, and even more could afford 8mm and super 8mm. It isn’t until videotape, however, that we begin to see the rapid and widespread commercialization of recording devices that would allow poorer, lower-income families to be able to record their own home movies, to depict their own lives from their own perspectives. This is evidenced even more when we come to born-digital content and the ways that the Black culture has proliferated visual culture via the internet. This film is a call to action on ensuring that these memories are not undervalued and lost to time. 


Rai Terry is currently the Fellow of the Public History of Slavery at Brown University where they are pursuing an MA in Public Humanities. As a scholar and filmmaker Rai is interested in engaging queer moments of rupture and Black ecstasy. They earned their BA in Black Arts and Social Theory from Brandeis University and have over a decade of experience with filmmaking and photography. Rai also hopes to continue to apply Black Feminist Thought and Queer of Color critique to archives, especially moving image archives, as spaces of life and recovery. Rai hopes to continue to engage with spaces that harbor sound histories toward creating new possible futures.