By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act June 24, 2012 at 9:13PM
Definitely a highlight at the American Black Film Festival, where it premiered and picked up the Best Documentary award, Byron Hurt's Soul Food Junkies is also a film we highlighted two months ago as a new project we’re excited about.
And deservedly so.. it’s a must see and you should definitely be anticipating it.
Byron Hurt, the helmer of the very well received 2006 documentary, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, has created a vastly entertaining, hilarious, passionate, revelatory and thoroughly researched documentary which examines Soul Food’s significance in Black American culture.
Hurt narrates the project, edited by Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez, via his personal journey. His family has been avid Soul Food lovers; his mother’s soul food had been the family’s bonding and social tradition. However, as long as he remembers, Hurt’s father had been overweight. Hurt grew concerned of his father’s health as he got older; his father’s weight had since doubled.
While attending college in Boston, Hurt began to change his relationship with food and altered his eating habits to his father’s chagrin, who took offense to Byron’s rejection of sausage and bacon served with the breakfast.
His desire for explore Black America’s attachment to Soul Food, its joys and its ills, was further precipitated by his late father’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer at the age of 63. Hurt doesn’t place all the blame in soul food. In fact, the doc makes it clear that the modern health problems among Black Americans are most likely caused by America’s economic food class war; organic and healthy foods are not available in many, if not most towns with predominantly African Americans, where organic markets are scarce and fast food joints abound. It’s also an issue of lack of proper education.
And, it’s not just a Black American problem. The doc makes a connection with African American’s soul food influence in mainstream society, originating in slavery. It’s also interesting to note that when learning about the history of soul food, some will argue that soul food’s roots in slavery – creating and surviving on left-overs, “bottom-feeders” are nothing to be celebrated.
Yet, another observation is that yes, slaves, the originators of soul food by creatively cooking meals with little resources, ate fattening foods, but they also raised natural, unprocessed crops and animal meat.
The doc has all the elements of a compelling documentary: emotionally-engaging personal story, jaw-dropping statistics on African Americans and health issues, fascinating history of soul food, humorous, candid interviews, but most of all it’s a very relevant and important subject of undeniable cultural significance. Hurt manages to balance all of these elements superbly, and offers solutions to the issue in order to still enjoy the tradition without compromising your health.
And although the message is clear, it’s not heavy-handed; it allows you to come to your own conclusions. What’s also great about it is that is not about “dissing” or demonizing soul food.
I can only hope Hurt’s Soul Food Junkies isn’t overlooked by distributors and audiences; It is easily one of the year’s best.
It’s actually baffling that this topic hasn’t been tackled with such detail and intelligence before.
By the way, if you haven’t had lunch you will suffer through this. After the screening, I hoped to get some fried chicken, mac and cheese, candy yams, pig feet, collard greens and corn bread. Too bad soul food is hard to come by in Miami Beach. I wanted to treat myself, if only in moderation of course.